We went on a field trip to a wildlife preserve called Neot Kedumim, where we got to herd sheep, cook on fires, and learn (and promptly forget) the names of a whoooole lotta plants. It was really fun to think about how the Lord is our shepherd, and we are just dumb sheep. Sheep are trusting though, so as long as we realize we know pretty much nothing and do our very best to trust him, he won’t lead us astray.
Our next field trip was to the City of David (just below the Old City) and we got to walk through Hezekiah’s tunnel. It was built as a way to preserve the running water in the city in ancient times. Even though the idea of being in a small enclosed space for an extending period of time with 40 other people was not exactly inviting, I’m glad I went through the tunnel! As always, the idea of it was worse than the actual thing. Life is pretty much always that way: when you face your fears, it’s not as scary as you actually thought.
In elementary school, we were constantly reminded that “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” Whether that was referring to candy, recess time, or group assignments, it was always applicable and we lived by it. But have we forgotten? Have we become so concerned with always having the best that we don’t know how to be grateful anymore?
Dr. Brent W. Webb, BYU’s academic vice president, came and spoke to us last week. During the Q&A portion of his presentation, someone asked what the current generation of BYU students could improve on. Among other things, he said we are very entitled. Many professors complain that we expect to be given what we want or think we need. There was a slight tone of laughter as we all thought the same thing: it’s true. We’ve all gone to talk to professors about getting a better grade, we’ve all complained about the unfairness of an exam question or a grading rubric, and we’ve all been disappointed by a grade lower than what we thought we deserved. I’ve complained about school just as much as the next guy, but I would like to change that.
Not only is it ironic how much we complain about school when we are paying thousands of dollars every year for it and people all around the world would do anything to receive the quality of education we are given, we also miss the point when we have an “I deserve an A in every class and will accept nothing less” attitude. Of course, because this is BYU, there are those extremely intelligent and driven people who get a 4.0 while enrolled in Organic Chemistry and 17 other credits and running a service club and performing in choir etc. etc. But the fact is, most of us are not that person. I’m definitely not. Yesterday I studied for about 4.5 hours for a final (which I still bombed, welcome to college) and today I could physically feel my brain protesting in exhausted agony. (I’m not kidding – it feels like a swollen balloon that could pop at any moment).
So what am I saying? On the one hand, I don’t believe anyone should settle for mediocrity just because you can’t be the very best at everything. On the other hand, I don’t think we should be disappointed in ourselves when we study our guts out and don’t get the grades we want.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, we should never compare our learning to someone else’s. When we are too worried about grades (I know, you want to get into your program, and I get that, but I’m talking in general here), it leads to a sense of entitlement. The only thing we are really entitled to from a college education is learning. And if you learn whatever it is that God wants you to learn, then you’re getting what you need and deserve. No amount of studying or organization can make up for a humble acceptance of the lessons life will teach you.
The only thing we are really entitled to from a college education is learning.
Of course, it’s exhilarating to walk out of a test confident that every answer was exactly what you studied and knew. It’s gratifying to see that a teacher was impressed with your essay or final project. And of course it’s encouraging when you’re at the top of your class. But while all that is good, what might be more important is learning to cope with disappointment and failure. Learning to say “I did my best for today and that’s all I could have done.” Learning to say “I didn’t do as well as I could have, and now I know what to do next time.” Learning to define yourself not by a number on a page, but by your character, your goodness, and your desire to be better.
I’m grateful for the marvelous things I am learning here at the Jerusalem Center, and what I have learned in general in my time at BYU. Though my grades may not reflect a worldly standard of greatness, I know that at the end of my life, I’ll be the person the Lord wants me to be. And that is all that matters.
Last week we visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, for our field trip. We were lucky to have our Judaism and Israel class professor, who is Jewish, as our guide. Every time I learn more about the Holocaust it’s a sobering, humbling, and thought-provoking experience, and this was no different. I fought back tears as we made our way through the guided pathway of photos, videos, and artifacts, telling a tale that few have survived to tell.
Near the end of the museum, I felt like I was starting to be able to internalize everything. I had my emotions under control, and I had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the life I have been given. “Here we go, moving into the liberation section of the museum. Things will brighten up,” I thought. I wasn’t prepared for the next thing I would see.
As I turned the next corner, a sharp photo hit me like a brick wall and my jaw dropped. It was of a young man, standing on skin-and-bone legs with knobby knees, an emaciated frame with protruding ribs, and arms that couldn’t have been more than 2 inches around. He was wearing nothing more than a single piece of fabric to cover himself, and I was shocked he could even be standing upright. The most striking feature of the photo was: he was smiling.
As I stood, staring, like a gaping fool, tears filled my eyes once again. I marveled: how could he be smiling? I guess he was smiling because he knew he had survived something impossible, and that now he would be free to live his life. But still. Did he realize that nothing would be the same? That he would have to start over from scratch, and that it would take the world years to know what he and his family had endured? Did he know that millions of people had been slaughtered in the name of ethnic superiority? Whether or not he knew any of that, he chose to smile, and that is moving.
Sometimes I simply wake up on the wrong side of the bed and it takes a small miracle for me to work up a smile. How ridiculous is that?
I’m extremely grateful for the life I have been given. I have been blessed by the sacrifices of others in my life, and I shouldn’t take that for granted. In light of recent events, having a positive outlook on life is more important than ever.
We should be strong. We should be kind. We should stand up for goodness.
Last week was Jerusalem’s illustrious light festival, considered to be “one of the best light shows in the world.” When we heard that, we weren’t sure how many light shows it was being compared to or what that even meant, but it ended up being pretty fantastic! Let my photos tell the tale. 🙂