At BYU, “we have the great privilege of an education for our whole souls,” said Susan Tanner, former Young Women General President, in Tuesday’s forum. Sister Tanner and her husband, former BYU–Hawaii president John Tanner, delivered a joint address on BYU’s ambitious mission.
For their remarks, the couple drew on more than 50 years of personal involvement with BYU, including their own time as students, Brother Tanner’s recent work compiling talks for the “Envisioning BYU” book and the experiences of six grandchildren currently attending.
They noted that it is Halloween, a holiday whose origins are in All Hallows Tide, which was traditionally a time to remember the dead. Appropriately, they said, when we consider the mission of BYU, we must look to the dreams of its founders, including Brigham Young, Karl G. Maeser and Spencer W. Kimball.
“They had a vision of what the university would become,” Brother Tanner said. “You inhabit their hopes and dreams. They are now yours to fulfill.”
Even these founders were preceded by D&C 88, which President Dallin H. Oaks has called BYU’s “basic constitution.” The Tanners focused their address on five principles for BYU’s mission this scripture gives us.
“Cease to be unclean”
Much as students in Kirtland’s School of the Prophets would wash themselves, fast and pray before studying to be clean inwardly and outwardly, BYU students can be “trusted to keep the code of cleanliness and honor to which they had agreed,” Sister Tanner said.
“Teach one another”
Beginning with Karl G. Maeser’s monitorial system, in which students helped teach other students, BYU has always followed the guidance in D&C 88 to have students and teachers “teach one another” so that “all may be edified of all.” Recalling intellectually stimulating discussions with professors and a roommate reading group from his own days as a BYU student, Brother Tanner explained that teaching one another is “in our institutional DNA.”
Learn “of things both in heaven and in the earth”
D&C 88 instructs us to “learn broadly,” Sister Tanner said, “of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are [and] which must shortly come to pass.” The general education requirements of the university fulfill that purpose.
“Too many people conflate college with credentialing,” Brother Tanner said. “You are not here just to get a credential, as important as that is. The Lord endorses a stunningly broad education. Why? So that ‘ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you.’ You are here to become educated so that you can go forth and serve.”
Brother Tanner made broad learning central to the BYU mission when, as an associate academic vice president in the 1990s, he was asked to draft what we now know as the Aims of a BYU Education. He tied the four aims — to be spiritually strengthening, intellectually enlarging and character building and to foster lifelong learning and service — to Brigham Young’s views on education. Each aim has a deliberate “outward orientation.”
Learn “by study and by faith”
“The Lord expects us to learn with both our intellect and our spirit,” Sister Tanner said. Brother Tanner remembered attending sacrament meeting in a building on campus where the sacrament was laid out between Bunsen burners in a lab. “What an image of joining study and faith!” he said. “Every Sunday it’s evident that we belong to an institution deeply committed to developing bilingual disciples, who know how to learn by study and also by faith.”
Live in the “bonds of love” and “covenant”
Referencing the welcoming salutation traditionally given by the teacher in the School of the Prophets to the students, the Tanners said that BYU should be “a place of covenant belonging,” where faculty, staff and students “strive ‘to walk in the commandments, blameless, in thanksgiving.’” They noted that every Church school is near a temple, symbolizing the connection between secular and spiritual learning.
The Tanners concluded by describing a vision of President John Taylor. President Taylor said he had been visited by Brigham Young, who shared that the nascent university had been “accepted in the heavens” and that “Christ Himself was directing and had a care over” the school.
“I wish that every student and all others who walk this campus would keep the words ‘Christ Himself has a care over this school’ running through their minds,” Sister Tanner said, hoping it would “prompt them to ask themselves, ‘What is my role and responsibility in helping this school reach its destiny, and what can I do to live up to the privilege of being here? How can I fulfill the dream of BYU?”