Choir Notes

The True Measure of a Nation
From Music and the Spoken Word
Delivered By: Heidi Swinton

This historic Tabernacle on Temple Square—built with the ingenuity and grit of 19th-century pioneers—has hosted many major civic events since its dedication in 1875. In particular, several presidents of the United States have stood at the podium. The list includes Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush. Records show that thousands—sometimes more than twice the normal capacity—crowded into the Tabernacle to hear them speak.

Their messages varied, but often they spoke of the power and influence of the country—its potential for good and the duties that come with that potential. In doing so, they usually did not point to material wealth or military might as the source of the nation’s power but rather to the goodness of its people.

John F. Kennedy spoke in the Tabernacle in 1963, just weeks before his assassination in Dallas. He spoke of far-reaching national and international initiatives. But he began his address by heralding the strengths of character that define the people of America. Said President Kennedy, “The qualities that we seek in America, the qualities which we like to feel this country has, [are] courage, patience, faith, self-reliance, perseverance, and, above all, an unflagging determination to see the right prevail.”[1] 

Could these words, spoken decades ago, be used also to describe us—our neighbors, family, co-workers, and friends? When history reflects on our era, will it remember us as people with courage and an unflagging determination to see right prevail? Will it focus on our self-reliance and perseverance, our faith and patience? And will we be remembered for our good judgment, integrity, and dedication?

A nation may be applauded for its successes and contributions to the world, but its true measure is found in the character of its people.

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