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The Road Less Traveled


Illustrations by Mark Smith

John Fowles delivered the following remarks at the convocation ceremony for the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies on August 16, 2013.

Graduates, families, distinguished faculty, and guests: It was an honor to be invited to celebrate this convocation with you. I commend and congratulate each of the graduates for their hard work in arriving at this point and their families for supporting them. I express my deep gratitude for the faculty and staff of the Kennedy Center and the university, who devote their lives to the world of ideas and imparting both substantive knowledge and, more important, essential critical-thinking skills to those who enter here, that they might then be equipped to go forth and serve.

Old habits die hard, and as an international securities lawyer, I found myself simultaneously performing due diligence about you in preparing my remarks. I learned a little about your backgrounds, your studies, and your internships abroad. Some of you participated in the Model UN program, one of the most important experiences that BYU provides. I realized that I would be willing to endorse you based not only on what you have learned and achieved but, more important, on who you have become through your studies here. To phrase it like a securities lawyer, I would underwrite you, just as the Kennedy Center and BYU are underwriting you, in certain important respects, by awarding you this degree today.

“Do Fidem”

I learned something about such an endorsement when I graduated from Oxford. The dean of my college took me by the right hand and presented me to the vice chancellor and the proctors as a master’s candidate. We bowed to the vice chancellor, and the dean then certified me and the other master’s candidates, taking the same degree to them in the presence of all witnesses observing the ceremony. A proctor then put us under oath to the university, and we each bowed our heads, saying, “Do fidem” (“I swear”), in unison.

We left the building and changed from our student, or commoner, robes into our full master’s robes, with hoods designating our degree, and returned to present ourselves to the vice chancellor, who welcomed us back and indicated for us to take our places in the raised seats of the congregation behind him. Master’s and doctoral candidates who were joining the faculty in addition to taking their degrees knelt down before the vice chancellor, who repeated an ancient formula that began, “To the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ and for the profit of the Holy Mother Church and of learning.” Then invoking his own authority and that of the university to bestow the right to do those things pertaining to the relevant rank, be it doctor or master, he closed by touching each candidate on the bowed head with a New Testament while saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”

Many elements in the modern ceremony still tie into older, more elaborate rituals no longer performed that resemble a due diligence function in creating graduates of the university. For example, in ancient times, before the degree ceremony, personal testimony was required as to the candidate’s fitness, and for this purpose nine bachelors were deposed on behalf of each bachelor candidate, or nine masters on behalf of a master’s candidate.

In my case, my presenter certified me. The proctor put me under oath. The vice chancellor welcomed me into the congregation of masters and doctors. I watched as the vice chancellor explained that it was done “to the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ” and sealed up through the invocation of the Trinity and the touch of the New Testament on those masters who were incepting into the faculty. This process provides an example of the type of divine underwriting that I want to discuss today, beginning with the due diligence that is part of any underwriting.

Due Diligence and Underwriting

Due diligence is the bread and butter of young securities lawyers representing the world’s biggest investment banks. I learned this quickly after arriving in London to work at one of the four Magic Circle firms in the Square Mile. In my first year at the firm, I was assigned to one management due diligence session in Oslo that lasted five straight days, in which we grilled the executive-level management and directors of Norway’s largest insurance company in highly confidential meetings about every aspect of their business as they prepared a securities offering to finance a takeover of a Swedish competitor nearly twice their size. This experience shaped my view of the importance of proper, intensive due diligence in the underwriting process.

In traditional securities underwriting, the investment bank takes the entire risk of the securities offering—such as an IPO—upon itself and profits based on whether it can sell all the securities in its allotment to its network of investors at the right price. This is a “bought deal.” Best-efforts underwriting, by contrast, is a more recent innovation in which an investment bank agrees to simply use best efforts to find purchasers for the securities without taking any responsibility for unsold securities at the end of the offering. But due diligence is of utmost importance in both approaches because the bank always faces reputational risk in each deal.

Today BYU will accept reputational risk in endorsing you to the world. Now, our modern-day American aversion to ritual, ceremony, pomp, and circumstance has even caught up to us at BYU, the Church’s university, so you won’t be sealed up unto the Lord today through invocation of the Godhead by a vice-chancellor who taps your head with the New Testament—or even the Book of Mormon—as you kneel before him. But this university is underwriting you nonetheless. The years of study you have put in; the exams you have taken and aced; the assignments you have done; the papers you have written; and the study abroad programs, internships, or work experiences you have completed all factor into the university’s due diligence on whether to underwrite you by issuing you this degree today. More important, observing the bright faith and moral character that you have developed and strengthened during the course of your studies forms the backbone of this due diligence.


Bought Deal

Above and beyond the university’s underwriting, however, you are a bought deal in the most meaningful transaction in history and the cosmos—the Atonement of Jesus Christ. First Corinthians 6:19 teaches that “ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” And that price was the blood of Christ, as we read in 1 Peter 1:18–19:

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;

But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

In this act of divine underwriting, He has taken us onto His books and owns us. Yet though this makes us His property in a certain sense, or at least “indentured servants,” because He owns us it is through Christ’s ownership that “we have obtained an inheritance” (Ephesians 1:11). It is only through this ownership that we become “joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). And, paradoxically, it is only through this ownership that we become free to act as agents unto ourselves rather than to merely be acted upon by our circumstances (see 2 Nephi 2:14).

In this act of divine underwriting, the Lord endorses us, recommending us to the world. As you leave today underwritten by BYU, remember that the world is your campus and that your charge is to “go forth to serve.” The Lord is prepared to ratify your righteous decisions and endeavors as you exercise independent moral agency in the face of circumstances that would seem cosmically arrayed to hem you in.

Ratification is a legal principle referring to “the affirmance of an act done originally without authority” (William A. Gregory, The Law of Agency and Partnership, 3rd ed. [St. Paul, Minnesota: West Group, 2001], § 27, at 81). The term is appropriate here because as disciples striving to live consecrated lives, we are not commanded in all things, nor should we be. Many formal callings will surely come throughout our active lives. But we need not wait on specific dispensations of authority to take initiative as moral agents and further the work of the kingdom through all aspects of our life’s work, whether in our families, careers, or church or community service. A fundamental element of the legal concept of ratification in agency law is that “[t]he third party with whom the actor deals must realize that he is not dealing with the purported agent but with his principal” (Gregory, The Law of Agency, §28, at 82), who in this case is the Lord. When you live according to your commitment to Christian discipleship, those with whom you interact and transact will recognize that they are dealing with the Lord as your principal through you. It is my conviction that the Lord indeed ratifies our efforts when we live this way, and our lives are then effectively consecrated to His benefit.


Targeted Solutions

People consecrating their lives in this way naturally become more-effective tools in the Lord’s hands to provide both targeted answers to the prayers of individuals and targeted solutions to global problems alike. As an undergraduate I did an internship for a German manufacturer of electrical components for the big German automakers. Visiting one of BMW’s manufacturing plants, I observed the innovative just-in-time inventory delivery systems used by all the suppliers servicing the plant. Just-in-time inventory techniques increase efficiency and decrease waste by receiving goods only as they are needed in the production process, which also reduces inventory costs overall. Microfinance, I later discovered, is another example of this type of targeted approach, this time in the intersection of charity and finance, which I experienced while working as a lawyer in the finance sector in London. Highly targeted microloans allow impoverished would-be business owners in developing countries to escape cycles of poverty and exploitation. Repayment rates are high, and the programs build self-confidence and productive enterprises that strengthen communities and economies on the hyper-local level.

In an age of surgically targeted solutions such as just-in-time inventory strategies or microfinance, you in fact become the targeted solutions that the Lord needs for particular situations through this divine underwriting process. He will ratify your righteous choices in pursuing your careers using the degree you are taking today. Exercise your agency to ask the Lord where He needs you to go and then be a pioneer in moving and settling there. The call to action has been issued and applies generally. In the April 2013 general conference, for example, Elder Stanley G. Ellis, a member of the Seventy, observed:

In the early years of the Church, President Brigham Young and others would call members to go to a certain place to build up the Church there. The irony is that even now we have faithful Church members everywhere who would go anywhere the prophet asked them to go. Do we really expect President Monson to individually tell more than 14 million of us where our family is needed? [“The Lord’s Way,” Ensign, May 2013]

No. We should ask the Lord ourselves where we are needed and then go, overcoming the spirit of fear in the process.

Elder Ellis acknowledged that we often think we need to live in some particular comfort zone rather than blooming where the Spirit has directed us to be planted, believing, perhaps, that “our children will have more friends and therefore better youth programs” if we move in search of such comfortable circumstances. But he explained that “apostles and prophets have often taught that what happens inside the home is far more important than what our children encounter outside. How we raise our children is more important than where we raise them” (“The Lord’s Way”; emphasis in original).



Exercise your agency by asking in prayer where you are needed, and then become this generation’s pioneers there. Make no mistake—it might be the road less traveled and therefore less comfortable, both for you and your loved ones. Perhaps you think you are going to go to New York City but you are really needed in Santiago. Perhaps you have plans to land in Tokyo but the Saints need you in London. If you think your career is waiting for you in Italy, don’t be surprised if the Spirit whispers that your combination of personality, knowledge, and skills can better benefit society in Malawi. I believe that intrepid graduates of the Kennedy Center are uniquely qualified, based on their training, to become the Lord’s agents in this new pioneering effort.

My family and I were greatly blessed to serve as pioneers of this kind for a brief period as we heeded the private call to pack up law practice, life, home, and children and move to London for a fresh start to my legal career and our family’s daily life. It was difficult though rewarding. We tried to bloom where we were planted by finding ways to integrate ourselves in our local community while also devoting ourselves entirely to strengthening the local ward of the Church.

I feel that we were very successful in both endeavors—within the local community and our ward—and that the Lord certainly ratified our efforts, thus allowing us to effectively consecrate our lives unto Him during those years. In fact, our enthusiasm for becoming involved in the local community began to merge with our focus on strengthening the
ward as our Mormon identity became known and accepted by those with whom we interacted at the children’s schools, at community events, and when spending time with neighbors and friends. We enjoyed befriending the vicar of the local Anglican church, where we loved attending many community events, such as the annual Christmas Eve presentation. We did not know what the future held and thought we might well be there for the long run, so ours was not an overt proselytizing effort but a long-view approach to simply live as disciples of Jesus Christ to the best of our ability, letting go and trusting in the Lord’s wisdom in the outcome.

But we also frequently tried to bring the community into our ward as we invited large numbers of friends and acquaintances to our own important events at church, such as baptisms, baby blessings, and certain special ward activities. One highlight of these efforts was when more than twenty of our nonmember guests came to our daughter’s baby blessing in response to the many invitations we had sent. Thinking a couple of them might actually attend, we were stunned to see that so many had accepted the invitation, including the headmistress of our daughters’ school! Also, a particular supervisor at work and I have casually exchanged and accepted invitations over the years to attend special events at each other’s churches. He attended when my father-in-law, John W. Welch, who is here today, spoke in London about the legal characteristics of the book of Acts to the J. Reuben Clark Law Society. I also invited all of the Anglican pastors in my section of London to attend that lecture and only one came—the vicar of our local Anglican parish church with whom we had built such a great friendship over the years.

Our time as pioneers came to an end all too soon as circumstances uprooted us from London, leaving us with amazing memories and lessons from this marvelous experience. I realized that I had baptized more people in that ward than on my mission in East Germany (by orders of magnitude)! To us it seemed that perhaps the presence of a Mormon family fully integrated in the local community had the effect of a leavening agent, which, though miniscule compared to the whole, allows an organic growth that is vital in bringing people to Christ.

The work for such pioneers, however, is far broader than assisting with missionary work or strengthening the local wards with your mere presence. Rather, it is about total community engagement—integrating into the local communities and becoming real assets to local service initiatives, PTAs, charities, athletics, leadership, and everything pertaining to the well-rounded life that can be exemplified by true disciples of Jesus Christ.

“But Do Good: We Will Meet One Another There”

If you are now or ever find yourself facing a period of weakened faith in your life, please don’t think that my comments here about strengthening far-flung communities through Christian discipleship exclude you. To the contrary! Your professional endeavors can and should contribute to improvement wherever you go, even if your faith is challenged at times. Of course, my hope for each of you is that you will be blessed to press forward in unwavering faith, but I have seen many deeply moral people with righteous desires nevertheless find themselves in moments—or periods—of wavering faith or loss of faith. If you encounter such moments, please consider that a consecrated life need not be an explicitly sectarian endeavor. One can also consecrate his or her life to the common good in multiplying the talents gained through a BYU education. To borrow a beautiful recent lesson from Pope Francis:

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ, all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! “Father, the atheists?” Even the atheists. Everyone! We must meet one another doing good. “But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!” But do good: we will meet one another there. [“Pope Francis Says Atheists Can Do Good and Go to Heaven Too!” Catholic Online, 30 May 2013,]

Of course, as the Pope knows, doing good brings us closer to Christ. Your faith will strengthen naturally as you use your talents to multiply good works while working through any difficult issues. As expressed in the Book of Mormon, “For every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God” (Moroni 7:16). This is how Christ’s divine underwriting of each of you pays dividends as you leave this campus today. As modern-day pioneers, your education in the Kennedy Center and at BYU will enable you to help the communities where you land flourish as you heed that private call and consecrate your efforts to the Lord, or the greater good. My prayer is that each of you will be inspired to do so and that I will see your names once again in the not-so-distant future as pioneers in your professional fields and also in the mission fields worldwide, living as pillars of communities where you were called to plant yourselves, bloom, and flourish.