We speak about “excellence” a great deal, but by definition, excellence does not come easily or quickly—an excellent education does not; a successful mission does not; a strong, loving marriage does not; rewarding personal relationships do not. It is simply a truism that nothing very valuable can come without sacrifice and effort and patience on our part. Perhaps you discovered that when you got your last grades. Maybe you are also finding that many of the most hoped-for rewards in life can seem an awfully long time coming.
My concern is that you will face some delays and disappointments at this formative time in your life and feel that no one else in the history of mankind has ever had your problems or faced those difficulties. And when some of those challenges come you will have the temptation common to us all to say, “This task is too hard. The burden is too heavy. The path is too long.” And so you decide to quit, simply to give up. Now to terminate certain kinds of tasks is not only acceptable but often very wise. If you are, for example, a flagpole sitter then I say, “Come on down.” But in life’s most crucial and telling tasks, my plea is to stick with it, to persevere, to hang in and hang on, and reap your reward. Or to be slightly more scriptural:
“Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.
“Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days” (D&C 64:33–34).
I am asking you not to give up “for ye are laying the foundation of a great work.” That “great work” is you—your life, your future, the very fulfillment of your dreams. That “great work” is what, with effort and patience and God’s help, you can become. When days are difficult or problems seem unending, I plead with you to stay in the harness and keep pulling. You are entitled to “eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days,” but it will require your heart and a willing mind. It will require that you stay at your post and keep trying.
On May 10, 1940, as the specter of Nazi infamy moved relentlessly toward the English Channel, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was summoned to the post of prime minister of England. He hastily formed a government and on May 13 went before the House of Commons with his maiden speech.
“I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.’
“We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all our strength that God can give us: … That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory—victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror; victory, however long and hard the road may be” (Churchill, The Life Triumphant, American Heritage Publishing Co., 1965, p. 90).
Six days later he went on radio to speak to the world at large. “This is one of the most awe-striking periods in the long history of France and Britain,” he said. “Behind us gather a group of shattered States and bludgeoned races: the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Dutch, the Belgians—upon all of whom the long night of barbarism will descend, unbroken even by a star of hope, unless we conquer, as conquer we must; as conquer we shall” (Churchill, p. 91).
Then two weeks later he was back before Parliament. “We shall not flag or fail,” he vowed. “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender” (Churchill, p. 91).
I share these lines with you not only because they are among the most stirring calls to patriotism and courage ever uttered in the English language, but also because I relied on them personally once.
Exactly 20 years ago last fall I stood on the famous white cliffs of Dover overlooking the English Channel, the very channel which 20 years before that ran as the only barrier between Hitler and England’s fall. In 1962 my mission was concluding, and I was concerned. My future seemed very dim and difficult. My parents were then serving a mission also, which meant I was going home to live I-did-not-quite-know-where and to pay my way I-did-not-quite-know-how. I had completed only one year of college, and I had no idea what to major in or where to seek my career. I knew I needed three more years for a baccalaureate degree and had the vague awareness that graduate school of some kind inevitably loomed up behind that.
I knew tuitions were high and jobs were scarce. And I knew there was an alarmingly wider war spreading in Southeast Asia, which could require my military service. I hoped to marry but wondered when—or if—that could be, at least under all these circumstances. My educational hopes seemed like a never-ending path into the unknown, and I had hardly begun.
So before heading home I stood one last time on the cliffs of the country I had come to love so much.
This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle, . . .
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war.
(William Shakespeare, Richard II, act 2, sc. 1, lines 40, 43–44)
And there I read again,
“We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. . . . What is our aim? . . . Victory—victory at all costs; victory in spite of all terror; victory, however long and hard the road may be. . . .
“Conquer we must; as conquer we shall. . . . We shall never surrender.”
Blood? Toil? Tears? Sweat? Well, I figured I had as much of these as anyone, so I headed home to try. I was, in the parlance of the day, determined to give it “my best shot,” however feeble that might prove to be. I ask you to do the same.