Music & the Spoken Word: Becoming better than when we started

No matter what people have accomplished in the past, life is an ongoing quest to be better — including better spiritually, to be gentler, more hopeful and, more loving, Lloyd Newell observes 

Editor’s note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square broadcast. This will be given Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023.

In 1978, Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn spoke at Harvard’s commencement ceremony. The students in the audience had reason to be proud of their accomplishments. They were graduating from one of the world’s most prestigious universities. Future success, at least by worldly standards, probably seemed assured.

To this accomplished audience, Solzhenitsyn gave a stark and humbling reminder: We are “born to die.” And since that’s the case, he continued, then our “task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature [than just to be happy]. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it” (see “A World Split Apart,” Harvard University commencement address, June 8, 1978,

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in a suit and with a beard, accepts a document from William G. Anderson, in a graduation hat and doctorate robes.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn receives honorary degree from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., on June 8, 1978. Handing degree, right, is William G. Anderson, University Marshal. In rear right is Harvard President Derek Curtis Bok. | Associated Press

It’s good counsel for high-achieving college graduates and for all of us. No matter what we’ve accomplished in the past, life is an ongoing quest to be better. And since life on earth is temporary, that quest would feel empty if it did not improve us spiritually. This is a spiritual quest, and it includes not just becoming smarter and more productive but also gentler, kinder, more patient, more hopeful, more loving. That is the quest of a lifetime.

This quest requires that we learn the difference between the temporary and the permanent. Along the way, we come to understand that among those permanent things are memories, relationships, wisdom, and love. We come to see that goodness and compassion outlive us, that people matter more than things, that God is real and He matters most of all. We discover the truth of the Biblical proverb: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1).

Higher education is a blessing. But the highest education comes as we strive to nurture our faith in God and grow our moral and spiritual nature so we can leave this life a better human being than we were when we started.

Tuning in …

The “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast is available on KSL-TV, KSL News Radio 1160AM/102.7FM,, BYUtv, BYUradio, Dish and DirecTV, SiriusXM (Ch. 143),, and Amazon Alexa (must enable skill). The program is aired live on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. Mountain Time on these outlets. Look up broadcast information by state and city at

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