Mitt Romney at BYU: ‘Life lessons from the front’


Click here to see a transcript of Mitt Romney’s post-Forum Q&A session.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney returned to his alma mater to speak about lessons learned from his presidential campaign at the BYU Forum in the Marriott Center on Tuesday, Nov. 18.

Students packed the Marriott Center long before the University Forum began. The audience greeted Romney and his wife, Ann, with cheers, whistles and a standing ovation as they walked to the stand.

BYU Academic Vice President Brent Webb gave a brief introduction and the audience cheered loudly after each excerpt. “We may have to cancel classes this afternoon,” Webb said, leading to more cheers.

Romney began by reflecting on his own time at BYU. “Things were different then. The Beatles were the only boy band, Bell Telephone was the only telephone company in the country, BYU cafeteria food was only served at the CougarEat, and Emma was Joseph Smith’s only wife,” he joked. The audience erupted in laughter.

Romney said he felt doomed as an English major without a clear career goal in mind because self-help guides claimed success came from a clear goal and relentless work.

“Almost nothing I’ve done in my career was planned in advance,” he said. Romney said neither he nor his wife had an idea politics would be in their future. When he asked her, “In your wildest dreams, did you see me running for U.S. Senate?” in which she replied, “Mitt, you weren’t in my wildest dreams.” He revealed that the joke was actually one he bought for his campaign from a joke writer. The audience continued to laugh.

The audience cheered when Romney claimed, “While it is fashionable to deny it, I firmly believe that America is the greatest nation on Earth.”

Samantha Williams
Students packed the Marriott Center to hear Mitt Romney’s Forum address. The audience erupted with laughter after his many jokes. (Samantha Williams)

He said that although he lost his presidential bid, running for president was one of his life’s most remarkable journeys. He continued by sharing life lessons he had learned from experiences during his campaign.

He first told stories of anonymity. People would tell him he looked familiar in the beginning of his campaign and he would claim to be Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. He once received a massage for his tight back and the masseuse asked if he was a dancer because he had strong legs. Romney joked that may have been the best compliment he received during his entire campaign.

Romney’s anonymity was lost as his presidential campaign became better known. He said he was informed that a foreign government was monitoring his emails, and so were the emails of those sent to him by staff, friends and family. He quoted the words of a hymn: “Angels above us are silent notes taking, of every action, then do what is right” and related it to daily choices. “Our words and deeds may well be recorded in heaven. And so, I presume, are the pages we open on the Internet and the sites we browse. Our anonymous surfing may not be recorded on earth, but it surely leaves an imprint in the book of life. Remember, every day, you’re writing your autobiography.”

He continued by telling a story of an enthusiastic audience at a political rally in New Hampshire. He had a summer house an hour away but worried about attendance at the event. He looked closer at the crowd and realized the audience was made up of almost the entire Wolfeboro Branch of the LDS Church.

“There may be times in your life when you feel that it is a bit of a burden being a member of the Church. Some folks will think you’re not Christian, some may be insulted that you don’t drink, and others will think you’re trying to be better than them by not swearing. But I can affirm this: your fellow members of the Church will be a blessing that far more than compensates.”

“We are not perfect. As a matter of fact, in many things we are probably no better than anyone else. But we are remarkably good as people at reaching out our hands to one another in need. Decide to be one of those who does just that,” he said.

Secret Service constantly accompanied Romney during his campaign, but the day after it ended, he went back to driving his own car, grocery shopping for himself and filling his own gas tank. “The cheers were gone as well, replaced by the agonizing reappraisal by others of what had gone wrong,” he said.

He said he and his wife never got caught up in the election flurry. They knew whether they won or lost, acclaim would be forgotten eventually, but what they did treasure was the friends they made. He told of the Secret Service agents who fought back tears when he went on stage to concede the victory to President Obama, and how they missed them “as friends, not as power candy.”

Romney said life can be self-consuming. “Who you are can be overshadowed by what you do, or by what you have done. If you allow this to happen, the inevitable twists and turns of secular life can warp your self-confidence and limit your ambition, and test your faith and depress your happiness. You are not defined by secular measures,” he said.

At BYU, Romney said he felt comfortable expressing spiritual matters. “You’re a child of a Heavenly Father who loves you, you’re his work and his glory. That statement also informs your life’s most important work: to lift others, to lift your family and spouse if you marry, and to remain true and faithful to the Almighty,” he said.

He claimed he could not speak of his election loss without acknowledging a few thoughts about how he believes God works. He does not believe that God always intervenes in the affairs of men to make things work out. “More often than not, our secular affairs are up to us. Don’t count on God to save you from the consequences of your decisions or to arrange earthly affairs to work in your favor,” he said.

Samantha Williams
Former Governor Mitt Romney speaks the University Forum on Nov. 18. His titled his address “Life Lessons from the Front.” (Samantha Williams)

One of the things Romney believes defines the majority of Americans he has met is that they lived for a purpose greater than themselves, which helped him and his wife remember their greater purpose.

Romney claimed that the only person he had ever debated before he got into politics was his five-year-old son, Matt, and the boy usually won. His opponents usually had their facts nailed down, so he understood why one of the candidates for the governor of Florida debated with a fan under his podium. “Debating can be a sweaty business,” he said.

To help keep things in perspective, he wrote the word “Dad” at the top of a sheet of paper on the podium for notes, which reminded him of his father’s fearlessness. He also drew a sun, which reminded him of the scripture that says, “Let your light so shine.” Whether he won or lost, he said he never wanted to dishonor or discredit the things he held closest.

He counseled that when circumstances come up that increase nerves, it is good to keep things in perspective. “Perspective is a powerful friend. You can welcome it through a preparatory prayer, by considering blessings of the temple, or by simply glancing at your CTR ring. Find ways to keep your life in perspective,” he said.

Romney said that meeting remarkable people was one of the most meaningful parts of his campaign. He met Lech Walesa in Poland, who led the nation to freedom with a union of fellow workers against Soviet Communists. Walesa endorsed Romney’s candidacy for president.

He met other famous, influential people like Cardinal Dolan, Billy Graham, and the Lutheran former Bishop of Stockholm. The latter gave Romney counsel that he wanted to pass along that he described as three rules for understanding another faith.

“‘First, learn about that faith from one of its adherents, not from one of its detractors. Second, compare the best of one religion with the best of another, not the best of one with the worst of another. And third, leave room for religious jealousy,'” Romney said. “I inquired what he meant by that. He explained that in every religion he has encountered, there’s something he wishes were also part of his church.”

Romney mentioned the enormity of influence one person can have. He referred to Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ.

“Each of you here will influence other lives. Think of that,” Romney said. “Consider with care how you act, what you say, and to what you will devote your life, for I assure you, your choices will shape the lives of other people.”

He spoke of other, not-so-famous heroes he met along his campaign trail. Joni Scotter made her way to Romney’s speeches dozens of times — enthusiastically squealing and energizing both Romney and his audience.

He also mentioned Jim Wilson, the tube-socks-and-shorts-wearing 70-year-old man who logged 40,000 miles in his 1998 GMC pickup attending 150 of Romney’s events. His truck was decked out with scaffolding and Romney posters, bumper stickers and flags. Once, people at a truck stop gave Wilson a hard time about his candidate support, so he left. Shortly after leaving, he looked back and saw the bed of his truck and all of his posters, scaffolding and more go up in flames. The truck was consumed.

Romney decided to give Jim another pickup because he loved his support. Romney later went to Iowa to help campaign for a candidate that presented him with a pair of white tube socks upon arrival. He claimed Jim Wilson to be another one of his heroes.

Romney said that running for president is a family affair, and said his family members are also his heroes.

“America needs heroes. You don’t have to be larger than life to be a hero, just larger than yourself,” he said. “I hope you’ll choose to be a hero because this world needs a lot more of them.”

He spoke of all of the advice he received on the campaign trail. Someone would hand him a letter with sure-fire ways to win the election, such as taking bigger steps to showing youth and athleticism. “Another said I should stop shaving for a few days to look more sexy. As if I needed that,” he said. The audience roared with laughter.

He received advice from his father, primarily to refrain from ending his speeches with “in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” Romney spoke of his wife, who he said is his best adviser. She often gives praise, then gently parcels out advice.

When Romney and his family took a trip to Israel during the campaign, they stayed at the King David Hotel. He told of the guest book on the coffee table of the hotel room. It was signed by dignitaries and famous artists, but not by Israel’s most famous inhabitant — Jesus Christ. “Unlike the hotel’s famous guest, He was not only a visitor to Jerusalem; He was its very foundation,” Romney said.

Romney reminded listeners to “never forget that we are his disciples,” and speaking with God through prayer is possible daily.

Romney concluded with his testimony. “I am so very thankful that I found the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It has informed who I am and to what my life has been devoted. It has provided the eternal ordinances of salvation and marriage. I love the Church. I love the members of the Church. I love the music of the Church. It’s my witness to each of you that following its precepts and its prophets will bring incomparable happiness, now and forever.”









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