It’s tradition at the BYU Jerusalem Center to sign one’s name on the pipes in the crawlspace under the lower auditorium. My signature has been there for three years now, but the mark I left on the Holy Land was more than my initials on a piece of subterranean plumbing.
Early in its history, before it had a single building, let alone the beautiful center in Jerusalem, the Brigham Young Academy was in dire financial straits. The structure intended for its use was in disrepair and would require several hundred dollars to renovate. “President [Abraham O.] Smoot quietly donated the necessary funds.”
Everyone at BYU has heard of Karl G. Maeser, the pioneering German educator with a strict moral compass, famous for his chalk circle of honor quote prominently featured at the testing center. Less well known is the fact that President Smoot recommended Maeser as the new principal for Brigham Young Academy. Smoot first saved the academy fiscally, before rescuing it academically through his wise leadership.
Boosting the academy over its initial hurdles galvanized President Smoot’s commitment to it. His interest in the school was later sanctioned, or rather mandated, by the prophet. In a final admonition to President Smoot, Brigham Young said, “I desire you, Brother Smoot to turn your influence and your energies to the building up of that academy.” A.O. wholeheartedly gave everything to fulfill this charge.
In the decades since, many others have given much to sustain the university and its students.
As I ponder the impact BYU has on the world, the iconic image of the Y lit up on the mountain is literally a light on a hill. The light of learning at BYU has influenced millions with the education and experiences to make their own marks on the world. Because Abraham Smoot, Brigham Young, Karl Maeser, and others like them caught the vision of building up an academy for the Saints, I’ve been able to study my craft in the light of the gospel. I’ve been able to learn holistically, meaning “by study and also by faith.” As I’ve entered and learned, I’ve been well prepared to go forth to serve. Such is BYU’s motto and a foundational premise deeply cherished by its earliest founders.
Of the marks we leave in others’ lives, President Harold B. Lee said, “The only true record that will ever be made of our service…will be the records that we have written in the hearts and lives of those with whom we have served and labored…”
I served as a Primary teacher in the Jerusalem branch that summer I spent in the Holy Land. Those valiant seven-year-olds definitely taught me more than I taught them, and I trust that my love for the Savior and His Church made an impression in their young hearts. While my initials on the pipe will fade, the mark of a committed Primary teacher will guide them to walk in the light and seek the blessings of eternity.
Beyond the funds consecrated 165 years ago, far beyond the administration building that bears his name; the mark President Smoot made extends into the lives of all who have crossed paths with BYU. In my studies and experiences at BYU, both before and after my mission, I’ve discovered a passion for teaching and learning that will provide direction for the rest of my life—I’ve decided to make my mark as a teacher. I will influence the lives of hundreds of students who will in turn impact thousands of other lives.
Toward the end of his life, President Smoot explained to his wife, “I haven’t a piece of property that is not mortgaged. I have had to do it to raise money to keep the Brigham Young Academy going. That was given to me as a mission and I would sooner lose all than fail in fulfilling this responsibility. I love that school and I can see what it means to our youth to have spiritual as well as book learning. It must live.”
I too love that school. And it does live.