Deidre M. Henderson, the second elected highest elected official in our state, came to Utah Valley University, to talk about the educational journey, and how it affects individuals and communities in Utah, and the state itself.
She discussed the long story of her degree, and how the state tries to make education in public schools better. In her 20s, Henderson was accepted to Brigham Young University, which was an important step for her. As a freshman, she met her husband, Gabe, and decided to leave BYU to focus on her family.
“I spent a lot of years, busy raising kids, and when my youngest started school, I was really looking for what was next in my life, and I wanted to finish college. I have taken some independent study courses here and there, but with five little ones, it was hard for me to figure out how to get back to school. They were not quite as friendly toward non-traditional students a couple of decades ago.”
Having trouble finishing her degree at that time, she decided to help those around her, as she believed that everyone could and should be encouraged to be involved in building a better society, and that’s how her political career started.
“I was looking for ways to get involved in the community, and I happened to meet someone who was running for Congress, who needed help, he needed volunteers. So, I randomly met him and randomly volunteered to make phone calls for this guy. He ended up winning a seat in Congress, and I helped him to oversee his political operations, which I did for about four years. Then a Senate seat opened up in South Utah County in 2012, and I won it.”
After winning the seat, she served as a representative for eight years, during which she doubled the number of republican women in the Utah State Senate, worked with people from all around the state, focused on policies that solve problems from all around Utah, including rural parts, and met ambassadors and ministers from all around the world. But most importantly, she worked on improving education in Utah.
“I have worked on all sorts of policy issues, from education, which is something Governor Cox and I are very passionate about, we want to make sure our young adults have opportunities, and the way they have opportunities is to make sure they have good education. We worked really hard to make sure that we are supporting our educators, that we are making sure that our kids, no matter where they live, can have access to a high-quality education in the State of Utah. We have supported and pushed a lot of new investment in education, teacher pay increases, we pushed for optional all-day kindergarten, to make sure that our little ones are adequately educated.”
She finally graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor’s degree in history decades later, in 2021, holding office while taking classes. It was very meaningful to her to finish her degree, and it helped her, as the lieutenant governor, to understand the needs of people who are getting an education in Utah.
Finally, Henderson encouraged students to be proactive and to help the government see things that otherwise would be left unseen, discuss things that otherwise would be left unheard, and get involved to make a difference.
“We rely on people to help us understand the perspectives that we don’t have. It is one of the most important things that citizens can do. It is possible to make a difference, it absolutely is. I have seen it so many times, I experienced it myself. Show up, speak up, and you can do incredible things, you can make wonderful changes. Here, in the State of Utah, you can affect changes, absolutely.