Former Harvard president says humility and hope are needed to become educated

Drew Gilpin Faust, a former Harvard president and first woman in the role, told BYU students about the importance of humility and hope in the pursuit of becoming truly educated. She said humility and hope are essential to this process and will help students to make an impact in the world. (Ryan Campbell/BYU Photo)

First female Harvard University president Drew Gilpin Faust told BYU students humility and hope are needed to become educated in the March 30 forum.

The former Harvard president focused on how humility is a prerequisite for becoming educated. She said the late Bryn Mawr College president, Miss Katharine McBride, taught her that humility should be a permanent commitment and condition because knowledge is itself endless.

Education, in its very essence, is about hope and the future, Faust said. “Dedicating oneself to a lifelong process of learning is to be an idealist, to reject despair, to embrace the future.”

Faust said humility is the opposite of narcissism and self-absorption. This means education is more than just knowing about oneself, she said. Education requires people to look beyond their own experiences and to see life in a broader context.

It is easy to judge the actions of those in the past while justifying one’s own actions and choices, she said.

“History humbles us by revealing our capacity to victimize, but in that revelation, it equips us with the possibility of resisting those instincts and perhaps even overcoming them,” Faust said.

Learning from history has helped Faust to see her own experiences in a new light. She said she is not done, however, because education is not a destination. Instead, education is a process and a vocation, a work in progress.

Drew Gilpin Faust compared the sudden rise in death because of the pandemic to the research she had done about the death toll during the Civil War. Faust said people could learn much about managing mass death by opening themselves up to listen to the voices of those who have gone before them. (Ryan Campbell/BYU Photo)

There are many ways and means of becoming educated, Faust said. Every field offered at BYU can help students develop a new perspective on their lives and experiences. She said this is only possible if they open themselves to examining their foundations to understand them in a different light.

Humility is also about sharing what one has learned, Faust said. “Humbled by our good fortune, we should do whatever we can to share it. Though we continue to pursue it for our whole lives, we should never take our education for granted.”

Just as humility is a foundation for education, so education reinforces that humility, Faust said. A deepened humility enables people to see more clearly and act upon that clarity.

Students at BYU have been blessed with an education, but there are many who do not have this opportunity, Faust said. “Education ought to be a right, but in too many instances, in too many places in the world it remains a privilege.”

Faust said BYU students should be committed to being educated well. That means seeking to broaden their knowledge with humility to open the widest possibilities for knowledge. With this comes hope, which can enable students to contribute to a better future for all the world.

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