Laura Seitz, Deseret News
The Newbold Family of the Pioneer Heritage Company walk in the Days of 47 Parade in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 25, 2011. (Photo/Laura Seitz)

Today is Pioneer Day, a name which was chosen to commemorate the arrival of Latter-day Saints in the Salt Lake Valley 166 years ago. And while it is appropriate to honor those early settlers and all of their tremendous accomplishments, it is also necessary to recognize that they were not the first pioneers in the history of this region, nor will they be the last.

Even in the modern world, which grows increasingly cynical and jaded by the day, there is no shortage of people willing to step up and be the first to go where no one has gone and do what no one has done. All of our lives are incalculably richer as a result of their efforts.

Granted, the frontiers have changed significantly since the Days of '47. The new territories we now explore have little to do with real estate and much more to do with the boundaries of the human experience. Pioneers in science, medicine, and technology have increased both the length and the quality of life the world over. Consider that the journey across the Great Plains that then took months now takes only hours, and the physical hardships those early pioneers had to endure are now treatable, preventable, or altogether avoidable. And if Brigham Young had had access to modern communication technology, his announcement that this is the right place could have been heard and seen in real time anywhere across the globe.

Pioneers of a different sort are the people who have made that world possible for us.

Of course, not all modern pioneers are rocket scientists or brain surgeons. In every life, there come moments that require people to blaze a trail through uncharted personal territory. Every second of every day somewhere brings a tragedy or a blessing that will irrevocably change everything in an instant. The extent to which each of us recognizes those transition points as opportunities to innovate and improve provides the measure of each individual's capacity as a pioneer.

Some become pioneers by choice, and others, by circumstances not of their choosing. When faced with a new challenge that seems insurmountable, it's understandable that many pioneers spend more than a few moments longing for a return to familiar ground. But instead of giving up in the face of adversity, they continue to press forward all the same.

That is the pioneering spirit. Today, that is what we celebrate.