President Cecil O. Samuelson and his wife Sharon welcomed students to the new school year with their annual fall devotional Tuesday in the Marriott Center.
Sister Samuelson reminded students of the laudable efforts of their predecessors to build the bridges that they are now crossing, and of students’ responsibility to build bridges for those who will follow. She told the students of the effort to build the Brooklyn Bridge and of the knowledge and materials and tools that contributed to its construction.
“All of you here today are crossing bridges you did not build but were constructed by others to bless your lives in many ways and circumstances which are truly remarkable,” Sister Samuelson said. “Your education at Brigham Young University is possible because of men and women who valued education and learning in an atmosphere of faith. They built these bridges through their hard work, foresight, and testimonies of what Brigham Young University could and would become in the future.”
As builders of bridges for the generations to follow, Sister Samuelson encouraged students to be strong links in the chain of their families’ generations.
“You are now the architects and project managers of your own bridges which are to be constructed for those who will one day follow you. You must make and follow your own blueprints, secure the best and strongest materials and tools, study, and gain the skills and knowledge necessary to complete the project. Your bridges will only endure when well built.”
President Samuelson addressed students’ tendency to perfectionism, explaining that it can be detrimental, rather than laudable.
“Some things, like the Law of Chastity and our BYU Honor Code, are rational, current perfection possibilities because they are mainly up to us alone,” President Samuelson said. “Other things, like our test scores and grades, are mostly up to us, but also depend on the judgment and standards of our teachers and professors.”
While it is important to understand which possibilities for perfection are entirely up to us and which are not, President Samuelson explained, it is just as important to take responsibility for those things that are in our control.
“Too often, we may be tempted to blame others for our deficiencies when in reality we should take responsibility,” he said. “I have heard students offer criticisms of faculty members who chose to give examinations after a holiday weekend, for example, when the students could have prepared better and earlier. Unfortunately, we also see those who blame themselves unduly when circumstances were not completely under their own control. This is not only unproductive, but can be debilitating,” President Samuelson said.
A difficulty comes with scripture’s replete admonition to become perfect, coupled with the acknowledgment that perfection is a process, unlikely to be completed in mortality.
In 1831, the Lord told the early members of the Church to “continue in patience until ye are perfected.”
“At least two things seem clear in this instruction,” President Samuelson said. “First, we are not perfect now. Second, we can become perfected if we are patient and take advantage of the requisite ways of thinking and behaving. Thoughtful patience is part of the perfection process. Like these early saints, we may be confused and make the mistake of misplacing an eventual essential eternal goal with the expectation of total perfection in the immediate now.”
Also with perfectionism comes the temptation to rely only on our own efforts. We believe that yes, it is “by grace we are saved,” but only, “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).
“We teach the importance of self-reliance and self-sufficiency,” President Samuelson said. “There are times, however, when these cardinal strengths can become handicapping sins.”
Likening the students to Peter walking on the Sea of Galilee, he said that we might lose faith and withdraw ourselves, but that God never does and never will withdraw His hand and support.
“In a real sense, we are called to be partners with Him in the perfection process. He knows what we do not know and has the strength we do not have. He asks that we do our part, but He does ask that we really do our part.”
“How do we do our part?” President Samuelson asked. “We try our very best, understanding that we have both strengths and weaknesses. We understand that the Savior is reaching out to us and provides all that is necessary if we accept Him fully.”