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Draper Journal

Gov. Cox opens up to Alta High students, answers their questions candidly

Nov 03, 2022 07:09PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Nobody can say Alta High student body officers don’t do their homework.

Given the recent chance to escort Utah Gov. Spencer Cox around their campus and pose questions to him, the Alta Hawk student leaders researched his different policies and stands on issues such as the mental health crisis, gas prices and refineries and the shrinking Great Salt Lake.

But one question caught the governor off guard.

“I asked if he had ever aspired to be an actor,” Alta student body audio visual officer Cali Jeppson said. “I was researching him and learned he was an extra, a hippie guitarist, in ‘Saturday’s Warrior’ and I’ve seen that movie; my uncle was in that movie. He turned all red and was really embarrassed, but then said that his friend had asked him if he wanted to be in the movie, so he went along.”

Cox, who was greeted by Alta’s drumline and cheerleaders holding a banner, toured the school as part of an opportunity to go to multiple high schools across the state, getting the chance to speak and listen with students, learning what was on their minds, said Principal Ken Rowley.

“When they called, they just said, ‘We’d like to come and have him visit with a small group and then a large group. He can answer their questions and talk with them about things that he’s concerned about. He really wanted to touch base with kids. He wanted to get a feel of what kids are going through today and what some of their issues are that they’re facing right now, that they’re concerned about,” Rowley said.

While touring the new Commons and field house, Alta student body financial chair Paige Haddock said she asked him about mental health.

“I was asking him if he was aware of how big of a deal mental health is with teenagers right now and what he’s doing to give them the services that they need to help out with that,” she said.

Her classmate and student body attorney general JJ Sullivan said Cox addressed it openly.

“He told us what he’s trying to work on right now and wanted to make sure we knew about the SafeUT app,” said the senior who attends the school that piloted the app that allows students 24/7 access to counseling services. “He talked to us about social media and those influences. He just encouraged us to put our phones down, which we hear a lot, and be present with each other, to show empathy and to disconnect to reconnect.”

Rowley said Cox shared with them his own experience.

“He opened up a little bit and showed a little bit of vulnerability to our kids when he shared his own story when he was in the eighth-grade and he was considering self-harm after being bullied and how a coach helped him overcome it,” Rowley said, adding that the governor told students that they are all important and to find time to talk to their peers.

Student body secretary Taylor Hadfield said he brought it up as “he doesn’t want anyone to go through what he went through. He wants us to be somebody kind and to encourage kindness.”

Canyons Board of Education Vice President Steve Wrigley listened in on the discussion.

“The governor was really down-to-earth and concerned about suicide and he talked about that. He was really heartfelt,” he said. “He was really open and personal in answering their questions. Sometimes with governmental officials, they’re an arm’s length away and on a time schedule, but he wasn’t like that. He was there for the students and stopped to talk to people. It was a real big thing for our students to have the governor to come to their school and recognize the excellence in education and meet them, as our future leaders.”

In addition to Cox interacting with the SBOs, he also fielded questions from some of the 350 students who had social studies during that class period in the school’s new Performing Arts Center.

“Seven kids came up on stage and were able to ask him their questions that made him think. He was just open and answered the best he could and was honest from his perspective. He was being authentic with his answers. For these students to be able to have their questions answered by our governor, that was impressive,” Rowley said.

Those questions not only dealt with public issues, but also those at school such as attendance, how COVID-19 has impacted education, and how social media affects youth today, said Rowley, who along with other administrators, teachers and district officials, stayed in the background during the 59-minute 40-second visit.

“I wanted the kids to run the entire thing. I saw them organize it, lead the discussion and everything. These kids are amazing. They just stepped up and did it,” he said, adding that the school’s newspaper and yearbook staff also were invited to photograph the interactions. “Bottom line, if they remember anything about this, it may be that he was very personal with them. He was very concerned about things that they’re worried about, and he wanted to help them understand how our government and our state is trying to do to help them.”

Student body chief of activities Josh Anderson recalls the story when Gov. Cox, back in the day, ran for student body president.

“He lost by three votes,” he said.

When student body president Zach Scheffner recalled one of those last deciding votes against Cox was cast by his wife, Abby, the student leaders laughed.

On the more serious side, they also talked about his plans and options for the Great Salt Lake and changing water rights, said student body historian Kimmy Ha.

“It’s a big problem,” Ha said. “I know the West is in a drought and everyone is trying to conserve water.”

None of the SBOs had met the governor before. Chill, approachable, easygoing and funny were terms they used to describe him.

“We really got to know him because he talked about his entire life and his mental health stuff. Obviously it could be a little intimidating because he’s the governor and that’s a pretty big deal, but then we learned he was just like us and relatable. It was a cool experience,” student body public relations officer Ian Smith said.

So much so, they shared some Alta swag, including Hawk flip flops with the governor, and now they’re planning to invite him and his wife to this year’s prom, which will be held at the capitol.

Before the spring dance, the SBOs are planning to hold community service projects and winter tournaments to help fundraise to sponsor a Make-A-Wish child in addition to hosting a spirit bowl.

“Our theme this year is ‘better together,’ said student body vice president Jake Motzkus. “We’re working on building better involvement after COVID at our school for all of our students, and especially for our 600 freshmen. We want everyone to feel included because when kids are involved in high school, they en