PROVO Jeremy Wilson struggled to muster much excitement for his physics class during the first week of the fall semester at Brigham Young University.
The 21-year-old from Oregon felt much better at the start of the second week, though, after BYU President Cecil Samuelson and his wife, Sharon, greeted students in the opening devotional of the new term.
Samuelson energetically defended BYU's unusual position that academic learning and learning by faith are compatible, a theme sounded regularly for more than 125 years by his predecessors and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns the school.
Fresh off an LDS mission and itching to pursue his business major, Wilson only signed up for the physics course to fill a graduation requirement.
"I needed motivation," Wilson said, "and Elder Samuelson gave it to me. He made it clear that all learning belongs to our religion, all truths are a part of life. If physics isn't relevant to my major, it is relevant to my life."
The 5,357 who gathered at the Marriott Center for the devotional laughed when Samuelson needled them about the new semester: "It is still early enough that those of you who have not been studying are only a week behind."
They appeared equally receptive to his message that "the doctrine of continuing and even continuous revelation is a fundamental and distinctive tenet" of the church.
Samuelson noted that BYU follows most academic traditions, such as rituals for conferring degrees at commencement.
"There is nothing inappropriate in this" at the church school, he said, "unless we mistake these scholarly attainments for end points rather than as advantaged starting positions for further learning."
The university's "allegiance to both scholarly learning and learning by revelation" is based on LDS revelation that calls them "closely related and intertwined," Samuelson said, "although most do not recognize it to be so and many refuse to acknowledge this essential truth."
Most importantly, he said, LDS students, who make up 98.5 percent of the student body, must avoid becoming like those described by Paul in the Bible as ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
The truths of greatest importance, the "facts of highest rank," Samuelson said, include that God is Heavenly Father, that Jesus Christ is his literal son whose atonement is real, that "Joseph Smith actually saw and was instructed by the Father and the Son and is the prophet of the Restoration," and that President Thomas S. Monson is the prophet and leader of the church today.
"He reminded us learning is a process with no finish line, that it's a lifelong pursuit," said Scott Maddux, 21, a sophomore accounting major from Camarillo, Calif. "He made me want to go to the library, which is where I'm going after J Dawgs," the hot dog stand just off campus.
Sharon Samuelson began the devotional by revealing that the Samuelsons celebrated the birth of four grandchildren since the end of winter semester in April, including premature twins born to the Samuelsons' oldest daughter, Becki. Born at 30 weeks, the twins spent two months in the hospital but are home after some "slightly frightening adventures."
The experience led her to ponder the role of parents who, as Latter-day Saints believe children are the literal spirit children of a Heavenly Father.
"We are really agents of God the Father in providing these precious little ones the very best mortal experiences possible," she said.
Sharon Samuelson endorsed the parenting pattern of King Benjamin found in the Book of Mormon.
First, she said, Benjamin ensured his children were educated. Second, he taught them the prophecies and teachings of the prophets. Third, he taught them about the role of scriptures. Fourth, he had confidence his children would teach the same things to their children. Fifth, he bore testimony of what he taught. And sixth, he taught them that keeping the commandments would help them receive blessings God had in store for them.
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