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BYU Forum: Mitt Romney

Editor's Note: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney spoke at BYU on Tuesday, November 18, 2014. These are his remarks as prepared. His address can be streamed on demand on and will be available on


It is an honor to address you today. It seems like only a few years ago that I sat where you are sitting. Things were different then: the Beatles were the only boy band, Ma Bell was the only phone company, BYU cafeteria food was the only choice at the Cougareat, and Emma Smith was Joseph Smith's only wife. 

I was an English major. That meant that I liked reading and writing. It also meant that I had no idea what I would do for a living. The self-help guides I read said I was doomed, because success, they claimed, depended on having a clear career goal in mind and working relentlessly to achieve it.

That isn't how life has worked for me. Almost nothing I've done in my career was planned in advance. I could hardly have predicted I would get into politics.  When I stepped into the auditorium to debate Ted Kennedy in Boston's historic Faneuil Hall, I turned to Ann and asked: "In your wildest dreams, did you see me running for US Senate?" "Mitt," she replied, "you weren't in my wildest dreams." Actually, she didn't say that. That was a joke I bought for my campaign from a joke writer. And every time I hear someone else use it, I feel like demanding a royalty.

The most remarkable of my life's journeys was the one I only recently completed: running for president. In case you haven't heard, I lost. Actually, I'd prefer to say that I won the silver medal. After Walter Mondale got shellacked by Ronald Reagan, he remarked that he had always wanted to run for president in the worst way, and that, he said, is exactly what he did.

Despite my loss, the experience was extraordinary and revealing. I come away more optimistic about the future of the country. I met people from across the nation, people who don't make the nightly news, but people who make daily innovations and discoveries, propelling our economy and providing for our future; parents who sacrifice their resources and their careers for their children; military men and women who willingly serve in the most hostile of environments. While it is fashionable to deny it, I firmly believe that America is the greatest nation on earth.

The experiences during my campaign also impressed upon me singular life lessons. I thought I might share a few of them with you today.

At the beginning of a campaign, you experience a good deal of unwelcome anonymity: nobody knows who you are. Occasionally someone would come up to me and say: "You look familiar...who are you?" I have a standard response to this. I reply: "I'm Tom Brady of the New England Patriots." This evokes a predictable laugh. But once, however, a fellow said he was a fan and asked for a picture. I can only imagine the guffaws when he proudly showed it to his friends.

One evening in a Marriott Hotel in San Francisco, I had arranged for a massage to loosen my tight back. Believe it or not, the hundreds upon hundreds of handshakes that day had given me a backache. After the massage, the masseuse, obviously unaware of my political career, remarked to my assistant: "Mr. Romney has strong legs; he is a dancer, is he not?" That may have been the best compliment of my campaign.

But anonymity is soon lost. During my last campaign, I was taken aside by one of our national security agencies and informed that all of my emails were being monitored and closely read by a foreign government. In fact, the same was true for all the people who emailed me—my staff, my friends, my family—were also being monitored by that government.

The words of a familiar hymn come to mind. "Angels above us are silent notes taking, of every action, then do what is right." No, the government involved is no angel. But our words and deeds may well be recorded in heaven. And so, I presume, are the pages we open on the Internet and the sites we browse. Our anonymous surfing may not be recorded on earth, but it leaves an imprint in the book of life. Remember, every day, you are writing your autobiography.

Early in a campaign, it can be difficult to attract an audience to a political rally, particularly if it is during working hours. I remember one event we had scheduled in New Hampshire. We have a summer home in the town of Wolfeboro in that state, but the rally was at least an hour away from our home. I knew that the media would read a lot into whether I had attracted a crowd or not. So you can imagine how relieved I was to step on to the stage and see a large and enthusiastic audience. Looking closer, I realized I was looking at almost the entire Wolfeboro Branch of the Church 

There may be times in your life when you may feel that it is a bit of a burden being a member of the Church. Some folks will think you're not Christian, some may be insulted that you don't drink, and others will think you're trying to be better than them by not swearing. But I can affirm this: your fellow members of the Church will be a blessing to you that far more than compensates. They will bless you when you are sick, lift you up when you fall, help you raise a teenager, counsel you about a job, and yes, even move your unpacked junk. We are not perfect. As a matter of fact, in many things we are probably no better than anyone else. But we are remarkably good at reaching out our hands to one another in need. Decide to be one of those who does just that.

A campaign can be a heady thing. At my first 2012 presidential debate in Denver, the miles of interstate expressway from my hotel to the auditorium were closed for me to all traffic. My motorcade was led by thirty or so police motorcycles and cruisers flashing their red and blue lights. I was accompanied by the Secret Service. This includes not only the detail of agents that surrounded Ann and me in our bullet proof SUV but also the tactical unit that followed, armed with machine guns and sitting with an open rear tailgate, facing the vehicles behind us.

And the Secret Service was only the icing on the adulation cake. Day after day, thousands of people shouted my name, investing in me their hopes for victory. The day before the election, Kid Rock electrified a packed arena for me, and the crowd cheered Ann and me for three solid minutes before we could speak.

The day after the election, the Secret Service was gone. They had asked to stay on at least for another week, but we felt that was an unnecessary imposition on them and on the taxpayers. The cheers were gone as well, replaced by the agonizing reappraisal by others of what had gone wrong. I was back to driving my own car, filling my own gas tank, and buying groceries at Costco, just like I had done during the several decades before.

Truthfully, Ann and I had never become caught up in all the flurry. I know that may be hard to believe. But throughout the journey, we saw ourselves in exactly the same way as we had seen ourselves throughout our marriage.

We knew that win or lose, any acclaim would eventually be forgotten. As Jimmy Durante once sang: "Fame if you win it, comes and goes in a minute."

What we treasure from the campaign was not the pomp and popularity. It was the friends we made. Among the Secret Service personnel, for example, we became close friends with a number of the agents. In fact, as we prepared to go on stage to concede the victory to President Obama, more than one agent fought back tears. We miss them as friends, not as power candy.

Living life can become self-consuming: Who you are can be overshadowed by what you do, or what you have done. If you allow this this happen, the inevitable twists and turns of secular life can warp your self-confidence, limit your ambition, test your faith, and depress your happiness. You are not defined by secular measures.

You are a child of a Heavenly Father who loves you, you are His work and His glory. This statement confirms your incomparable worth. This statement also informs your life's most important work: to lift others, to lift your family and spouse if you marry, and to remain true and faithful to the Almighty.

I can't speak of my election loss without adding a few thoughts about how I believe God works. I know, that's way above my pay grade, but after five decades of adult life and many years of pastoring in the church, I have come to some preliminary conclusions. First, God does not always intervene in the affairs of men to make things work out the way we would like them too. In our heads, we all know that. But I can't tell you how many members of the church I've spoken with who think God will help their business succeed, or get them a promotion, or make their investments profitable. I just don't think God will intervene to help you get rich. There may be exceptions, but I wouldn't count on it. What He does guarantee is written in D&C 90:24. "Search diligently, pray always and be believing and all things shall work together for your good, if ye weak up rightly and remember the covenant wherewithal ye have covenanted one with another."

I once rode in a car with Elder F. Enzo Bushe, then of the Seventy. As I recall our conversation, he related that while a businessman in Germany, the company he owned was in dire condition, on a path toward bankruptcy and liquidation. One night, distraught, he went into a field, knelt in the cold and dark, and poured out his heart to the Lord. Miraculously, he eventually heard a voice from heaven. Only one word was spoken: "Work."

More often than not, our secular affairs are up to us. Don't count on God to save you from the consequences of your decisions or to arrange earthly affairs to work in your favor.

I think that one of the things that defines the great majority of the Americans I met is that they live for a purpose greater than themselves. During my campaign, Ann and I were frequently reminded of our greater purpose.

You may find it hard to imagine what it is like to debate an opponent on national TV. I was not a high school debater. In fact, until I got into politics, the only person I had ever debated was my five-year-old son, Matt. And he usually won. My 2012 campaign had 23 televised debates, 20 with fellow Republicans and three with President Obama. These guys were no debate slouches. Newt Gingrich had been Speaker of the House. And President Obama, well, he had been president for four years. He kind of had his facts nailed down by that point.

You may have read that one of the candidates for Governor of Florida this year put a fan under his podium when he debated. I sure know why: debating can be sweaty business. 

And so before every one of my debates, I did something to keep things in perspective. At the top of the sheet of paper that was placed on my podium for me to make notes, just before the debate kicked off, I wrote at the top one word: "Dad." I also drew a small image of the sun. Throughout the debate, when I'd glance down at that paper, I was reminded of my father's fearlessness in fighting for what he believed was right. And the sun? That reminded me of the familiar scripture, "Let your light so shine..." Win or lose a debate, I hoped I would never do anything that would dishonor or discredit the things I hold most dear.

During your life, you will encounter circumstances that make you sweat. For many of you, exams and tests won't be over when you graduate. You will all stand at podiums, stand in front a boss to ask for a raise, or work on a critical project in your employ. At moments like these, perspective is a powerful friend. You may welcome it through preparatory prayer, by considering the blessings of the temple, or by simply glancing at your CTR ring. Find ways to keep life in perspective. 

One of the most meaningful aspects of the campaign was meeting remarkable people. I met Lech Walesa in Poland. When the Soviet Union invaded Poland, they rounded up thousands of that nation's most influential people. And then they shot them. There was to be no leader for a revolt. Against that backdrop, a shipyard electrician said no, no to the oppression, no to the Soviets. He formed a union of fellow workers and joined a barricade behind shipyard gates. And the Communists blinked. What followed was a movement, which led to the freedom of a nation.

And so I met this hero. When I came in to see him, he said, "You have come a long way. You must be tired. You sit, I will talk, you listen." And I did. Time and again, he implored: "The world needs American leadership."  At the end of our meeting, he endorsed my candidacy for president. I do not recall being more humbled.

I met Cardinal Dolan in the rectory of New York City. He is a mighty voice for religious freedom. I met Billy Graham at his mountain home. He prayed for me. His is a voice that has long called people to come to Jesus. I met the Lutheran former Bishop of Stockholm. His counsel on judging other religions was instructive. He said he had three rules for understanding another faith. First, learn about that faith from one of its adherents, not from one of its detractors. Second, compare the best of one religion with the best of another, not the best of one with the worst of the other. And third, leave room for religion jealousy. I inquired what he meant by that. He explained that in every religion he has encountered, there is something he wishes were also part of his religion. Among Mormons, he spoke of our missionary program, among Catholics, their reverence for the Pope, and so forth.

From all the admirable and heroic people I met, I was impressed with the enormity of the influence one single person is able to have. One man ushered in the freedom of an entire nation. One man led an evangelical awakening. And as we know, one man restored the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Each of you here will influence other lives. Think of that. Perhaps you will shape history; perhaps you will shape one person's history. Consider with care how you act, what you say, and to what you will devote your life, for I assure you, your choices shape the lives of others.

I met others I call heroes during my campaign. At one of my first speeches in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the applause from the audience was instigated by someone with a loud, piercing shout. "Isn't he wonderful?" she would yell. Or, "we love you, Mitt!" "You're the best!" I can assure you, I was as pleased as I was startled.

After my remarks, a delightful middle aged woman named Joni Scotter made her way to the small stage and threw her arms around me. This was the first time I met Joni, but it was far from the last. Over the campaign years, I have seen Joni dozens of times. She drives to wherever I may be in eastern Iowa. And at every speech, her enthusiastic squeals of support energize both me and the audience. She is my hero. 

One day, as my motorcade approached a rally in New Hampshire, I noticed that someone had gone way over the top in decorating their pickup truck. He had built a scaffolding of sorts in the back and mounted enormous Romney posters on both sides of it. The rest of the truck was decked out with my bumper stickers and with flags. There was a man standing next to it. He was tall, white haired, smoking a pipe, and wearing Bermuda shorts with long white tube socks that came almost up to his knees.

A few days later, when I was pulling into an event in Iowa, I happened to see that same truck. In fact, it seemed that wherever I went, that truck was parked out front and that man in the white tube socks was standing next to it. That may not seem so unusual, but remember, I was flying from place to place and he... he was driving.

Jim Wilson turned out to be 70 years old. By the mid point of my campaign, he had attended 150 of my events. And he had logged 40,000 miles on his 1998 GMC pickup. On one drive, some fellas at a fuel stop had given him some lip about his support for me. He left, but shortly later, looking back to the bed of his truck, he saw that his posters and scaffolding were on fire. Soon, the truck was engulfed, and totaled. 

Of course, we decided to help Jim get another used pickup--how could I possibly do a rally without Wilson at the entrance?!

This October, I was in Iowa to campaign for a candidate who was running for US Senate. And there Jim Wilson was. He presented me with a pair of white tube socks.

Jim Wilson is my hero.

Running for president was a family affair, and I'm not just talking about my immediate family. Cousins and in-laws Ann and I had not seen for decades showed up at events and volunteered hundreds of hours at campaign offices. One niece painted my portrait for a poster. Another solicited his business customers for donations, and he may have lost his job because of it.

My family members are my heroes.

America needs heroes. You don't have to be larger than life to be a hero, just larger than yourself. I see heroes everyday--scout masters, primary teachers, missionaries, campaign volunteers, parents. I hope you will choose to be a hero because we need a lot more of them. 

One of the best and the worst things about a campaign is that you get a lot of advice. Usually several times a day, someone in an audience would hand me a letter with their 100% sure-fire way for me to win the election. I was told to take bigger steps when I walk to show that I'm young and athletic. Another said I should stop shaving for a few days to look more sexy.  

Of course, the best advice comes from the people closest to you. Having been a frequent speaker in church, I figured that I didn't need a lot of advice on giving a speech. Wrong. Political speeches are different than church speeches. My Dad, then Governor of Michigan, joked that he had once ended a campaign speech with "in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen." My error wasn't that obvious, but my chief strategist helped me to shorten my long stories, to find applause lines, and to slow down.

Advice from your spouse can be a tricky thing. Ann is my best advisor. But I also look uniquely to her for affirmation and support. She has perfected the art of first heaping on the praise and then ever so gently ladling on a word of advice. When it comes to marriage, "reproving betimes with sharpness" is never a good idea. It can lead to many lone and dreary nights.

Just like I did during the campaign, you need to have a life coach. You need someone who will tell you the truth, tell you that the perfect mate you have been looking for is no more perfect than you are, tell you when you are wrong, and tell you what will make things right.

I can assure you, finding someone who cares enough about you to tell you the truth and then taking time to gain their counsel and their coaching, is invaluable.

One of my fondest campaign memories was my trip to Israel. I had dinner at the home of an old Israeli friend who I had first come to know at my first job after business school. At that time he called himself Ben Nitay because his real name was too difficult for some Americans to pronounce. Today he is known as BiBi Netanyahu and he serves as Israel's Prime Minister. 

I also had the opportunity to address an audience in front of the historic Jerusalem city wall.

Ann and I stayed at the beautiful King David Hotel, opened in 1931. Our room had a breathtaking view of the old city. As we were unpacking, Ann remarked with dismay that she had left her Bible at home. A few moments later, there was a knock at our door. There, an Israeli security guard handed her a Bible. Apparently, he was listening in to what was being said in our room. Again, "angels are silent notes taking."

Our son Josh, who had joined us on this trip, noted a large leather book that sat on the coffee table. It was a guest book, signed by many of the dignitaries who had stayed in the hotel. We saw the signatures of Margaret Thatcher, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, Tony Blair and also Madonna, and Bono. We were impressed.

The next day, Ann and Josh went to see the garden tomb believed to be Jesus' final earthly resting place. Of course, His signature is not in the King David Hotel guest book. Unlike its famous guests, He was not only a visitor to Jerusalem; He was its very foundation. 

We can never forget that we are His disciples. We may not hob nob with the famous, but in prayer, we can speak with God every day. 

I am so very thankful that I found the Church of Jesus Christ. It has informed who I am and to what my life has been devoted. It has provided the eternal ordinances of salvation and marriage. I love the Church. I love the members of the Church. I love the music of the Church.  It is my witness to each of you that following its precepts and its prophets will bring incomparable happiness, now and forever. 

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