Drew Gilpin Faust, U.S. historian and former Harvard president, delivered Tuesday’s forum address. She spoke on humility’s role in the work of becoming educated.
Faust told a story about one of the graduate schools at Harvard. The school adopted a motto that has a double meaning: “Learn to change the world.”
“The phrase is at once an invitation — come and learn how to change the world — and a statement of fact — education changes the world,” she said. “Change, the message is, lies at the heart of what education does, how it empowers us and what it demands of us. Seeing beyond ourselves enables us to imagine and act on behalf of a different future.”
Faust pointed out that learning must begin with, and be centered around, humility. Learning is a result of the understanding that there is always more that we do not know.
“A sense of ignorance fuels the desire to overcome it,” she said. “Humility is a prerequisite for becoming educated.”
In her educational career, Faust chose to devote her life to history. She published a book about Americans’ attitudes towards death in the nineteenth century in an attempt to understand the effect of the Civil War and other tragedies to follow on that topic. As time has passed, she has learned that American society has approached death differently over time, with a stronger tendency to avoid the topic altogether today than there was in the past.
“Every field offered here at BYU can enable you to develop a new perspective on your life and experience if you open yourself to being a little disoriented, to seeing your own assumptions and choices as contingent, to examining their foundations in order to understand them anew,” she said.
Through her analysis, Faust realized how reflection of the past leads to a contemplation of the future.
“I believe that if we approach the past with the goal of understanding rather than judging, we have the opportunity to learn from the shortcomings as well as the achievements of our forebears,” she said. “If we can comprehend the sources and mechanisms of their blindness, perhaps we can better equip ourselves to acknowledge and confront our own.”
Faust pointed to recent research from BYU — including those about the effects of social media on suicide risk for teenage girls, the implications of ice sheet dynamics for historical ecosystems and the analysis of datasets from 1918 to help understand pandemics — as examples of education leading to action.
“Education must be about a different future not just for ourselves as individuals but for a wider society that will benefit from the contributions of those who learn,” she said.
Faust emphasized that our commitment to education can not only better ourselves, but our world at large.
“Education is the vehicle we ride to the future, both individually and collectively,” she said. “We will continue to be educated in one way or another until our very last breath.”
Next Devotional: Ryan Gabriel, Assistant Professor of Sociology
Dr. Gabriel will deliver the devotional address on Tuesday, April 6 at 11:05 a.m. His remarks will be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org (and archived for on-demand streaming), KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM, BYUradio 107.9 FM and SiriusXM 143.