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What Halloween has to do with ‘fulfilling the dream’ of BYU

Brother and Sister Tanner speak during Halloween forum about honoring the dead — or the past builders of BYU

In delivering a joint forum address on Halloween morning, Tuesday, Oct. 31, husband-and-wife duo John S. and Susan W. Tanner noted that trying to connect their message to the popular Western holiday was difficult.

“It’s not been easy to find an uplifting Halloween theme,” Brother Tanner told students gathered in the Marriott Center on the Brigham Young University campus.

However, Sister Tanner noted, Halloween began as a religious festival called “All Hallows Eve,” held the night before “All Saints Day” on Nov. 1 and “All Souls Day” on Nov. 2. The whole season is called “All Hallows Tide.” 

“The larger meaning of these holidays is that this is a time to remember the dead,” she explained.

BYU is built on the dreams and hopes of its founders, many of whom have passed away. “They had a vision of what the university would become. You inhabit their hopes and dreams. They are now yours to fulfill,” Brother Tanner told students.

In the Latter-day Saint hymnal is a song, “For All the Saints,” originally written for “All Saints Day.” In it is a line that says, “Oh, may thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold, Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old.”

John S. Tanner and Susan W. Tanner speak during a BYU forum held in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023.
John S. Tanner and Susan W. Tanner speak during a BYU forum held in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023. | Joey Garrison/BYU

Quoting the hymn, Brother Tanner declared, “Brothers and sisters, we challenge you, our beloved BYU community, to be ‘faithful, true and bold’ in pursuing the mission of BYU. For if BYU is to realize its full potential and become the BYU of prophecy, … we must be ‘faithful, true and bold’ in fulfilling the dream of BYU.”

Sister Tanner, who served as the Young Women general president and was the principle writer of “Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society,” and Brother Tanner, who served as a counselor in the Sunday School general presidency and was a professor and academic vice president at BYU, were both instrumental in compiling and studying mission-centric talks for a recently published volume titled, “Envisioning BYU.” 

Throughout their remarks, the Tanners — who have six grandchildren attending the university — frequently referred to students as their “grandkids,” encouraging them to read, study and understand the talks compiled in “Envisioning BYU.”

Brother Tanner explained that BYU has its origin, not just in talks, but in scriptural injunctions, especially Doctrine and Covenants 88, known as the Olive Leaf, which contains the oft-quoted counsel to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, called the Olive Leaf “the first and greatest revelation of this dispensation on the subject of education,” BYU’s “basic constitution” (“A House of Faith,” BYU Speeches, August 1977).

The Tanners then shared five principles found from the Olive Leaf revelation.

1. ‘Cease to be unclean’

From the beginning, Latter-day Saints believed worthiness to be essential to education, Sister Tanner noted. Doctrine and Covenants 88:124 contains the injunction to “cease to be unclean.”  

“This mandate runs all through the Olive Leaf. There is a repeated emphasis for learners in the School of the Prophets to be clean and worthy to qualify for the Spirit. Clearly, the expectations of integrity, moral purity and worthiness did not begin with our current BYU Honor Code.”

John S. Tanner and Susan W. Tanner speak during a BYU forum held in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023.
John S. Tanner and Susan W. Tanner speak during a BYU forum held in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023. | Joey Garrison/BYU

2. ‘Teach one another’

Not only are students to “teach one another,” but student and teacher at times are to exchange roles “that all may be edified of all” (88:122), Brother Tanner continued. “So, grandkids, I hope you will have interactive teaching and learning opportunities here. I strongly encourage you to choose friends and roommates whom you can learn from.”

Individuals must take responsibility for their own learning. “Don’t be a what a Harvard professor called a ‘bench-bound’ listener or learner,” Brother Tanner said.

3. Learn ‘of things both in heaven and in earth’

Doctrine and Covenants 88 also teaches that individuals should learn broadly. “Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are … [and] which must shortly come to pass.” Why? “That you may be prepared in all things” (See D&C 88:79-80).

Brother Tanner noted this principle applies to education as well as exaltation. “Too often we describe our goal as going through the temple or making it to the celestial kingdom, rather than having the temple go through us or becoming celestial people, like God. … [God] won’t inflict a celestial life on those who don’t love celestial things. The point is to become celestial people, not just make it to the celestial kingdom.”

The same is true for education, he said. “Too many people conflate college with credentialing. You are not here just to get a credential, as important as that is. The Lord endorses a stunningly broad education. Why? So that ‘ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you’ (88:80). You are here to become educated so that you can go forth and serve.”

Students gather in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, for a forum with John S. Tanner and Susan W. Tanner.
John S. Tanner and Susan W. Tanner speak during a BYU forum held in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023. | Joey Garrison/BYU

4. Learn ‘by study and by faith’

This combination is crucial at BYU and to education for Latter-day Saints generally, Sister Tanner said. “The Lord expects us to learn with both our intellect and our spirit.”

President Spencer W. Kimball, in his mission-centric address at the beginning of BYU’s second century, said that Latter-day Saints should be “bilingual”: “You must speak with authority and excellence … in the language of scholarship and you must also be literate in the language of spiritual things.”  

Sister Tanner then added, “I hope that you kids cultivate the bilingual education you can receive here of the whole soul.”

5. Live ‘in the bonds of love’ and ‘covenant’

In section 88, Joseph Smith greets learners “in the bonds of love” and “covenant.”

Said Brother Tanner, “This stirs me to my very soul. Can you imagine the Prophet greeting you in the name of Christ and in covenantal fellowship as you came into the school?”

Students and faculty should keep the spirit of this salutation in their hearts. “I often repeated it to myself as I prepared to interact with my students,” Brother Tanner recalled. “I encourage all faculty and staff to do the same. Like the School of the Prophets, this community should be bound together in the bonds of love and covenant; a place where we strive ‘to walk in the commandments, blameless, in thanksgiving.’ This should be a place of covenant belonging.”

In sharing some of the accounts of the early builders of BYU, Brother and Sister Tanner concluded by encouraging listeners to help fulfill the dreams expressed by those builders.

“We hope that you now feel, more than ever, surrounded by the spirits of those who have built BYU,” Sister Tanner said. “Great, noble men and women have built this place. Sometimes they were paid in cabbages and carrots. But they were consecrated. They believed in BYU. They believed that Christ himself has a care over this place.  

“May you be ‘faithful, true and bold’ to their dream of BYU, like ‘all those Saints who nobly fought of old.’”  

Brother Tanner noted that as listeners file out of the Marriott Center, they would hear the carillon bells. “The carillon was dedicated by President Kimball at the end of his prophetic Second Century address. Every time I hear the bells, I remember what he said when he dedicated them: ‘Just as these bells will lift the hearts of the hearers, … let the morality of the graduates of this university provide the music of hope for the inhabitants of this planet.’”

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