Embracing the Other

At April’s convocation, Dean J. Scott Miller, Professor Greg Stallings, and graduating student Kristin Blair spoke about how the humanities can teach us to foster empathy and compassion.

PROVO, Utah (April 28, 2017) Sometime during their college career, most humanities majors are asked the perennial question, “What are you going to do with a degree in that?” As the College of Humanities celebrated 485 new graduates at the April 2017 convocation, Dean J. Scott Miller suggested that they could now confidently respond, “Just watch and see.”

Miller said this group of graduates had a harder time getting accepted into BYU than any previous group of graduates. As they go out into the world, however, he encouraged them to avoid taking tempting paths to self-glorification. “We live in a world where garnering the attention of other people can matter more than the people themselves,” he said. “In contrast, God’s greatest work, and the source of His glory, is in building up humanity.”

He said that GPA and careers do not matter in an eternal view. Rather, the thing that will be bring us the greatest glory is serving others. “We hope you will go forward and, regardless of your worldly successes, remember that your greatest work and glory is to build up others,” he said. “Make this happen wherever you will serve throughout your lifetime . . . and you will be blessed with true glory.”

Philosophy graduate Kristin Blair also spoke of compassion and how it shaped her time as an undergraduate. “In my study of the humanities,” she said, “I have learned about compassion in a variety of ways, ultimately informing my belief that God’s grace gives us the strength to ask and feel the weight of unanswered questions.”

Recounting her journey to reconcile faith and intellect at BYU, she has learned that looking closely at the human experience helps her to look and believe. “I have wrestled with a lot of questions. I am still wrestling with a lot of questions,” she said. “But the gift I am taking with me as I leave BYU is a deep love for questions. I can love them because I approach them from a foundation. I have an anchor in Jesus Christ, and that makes all the difference.”

Ultimately, Blair said, the compassion we learn when we study the human experience is just the beginning. She concluded, “I believe that compassion will allow us to love questions, to nurture them in a garden of faith, and to grow beautiful minds prepared for everlasting life.”

Greg Stallings, associate professor of Spanish, was last to speak to the graduates. He cited several studies and academic articles concluding that reading literature fosters empathy in readers. “When we laugh and celebrate with others, when we reach out and embrace the Other,” he said, “we share in the diversity of God’s creation.”

Several studies and exit surveys show university graduates do not read many books after graduation. One study even indicates that 42 percent of college graduates will never read another book again in their life. “I want to stress today that there is growing evidence that, to borrow President Hinckley’s phrase, the reading of ‘good books’ can play an important role in virtually every walk of life, from business and teaching to parenting or making art,” he said.

In conclusion, Stallings recommended graduates create a lifelong habit of reading literature well after graduation. “Graduates, please consider following President Hinckley’s recommendation to study good books and to find a place for the humanities in your future,” he said. “As you do so, you will gain a greater appreciation of the diversity essential for your temporal and spiritual progress. I know that your future is bright.”