My Message to High School Students

By Gary R. Herbert

On Wednesday, October 12th, I had the unique honor of speaking to high school students across the State of Utah as part of my 2011 Rural Jobs Tour.  I spoke to a small group of San Juan High School students in Blanding, but students state-wide were able to watch and participate in the broadcast thanks to the impressive technology provided by the Utah Education Network. My primary focus was to encourage students to pursue education beyond high school, and to recognize that education is freedom.

Watch the full broadcast here

Students at Murray High School watch the broadcast


My remarks to students:

I’m honored to be speaking to high school students across the great state of Utah!

Recently, a 72 year old woman named Ella recounted the story of the first time she met her great grandmother. It was many years ago when Ella was 16.  She travelled to the small town where her great grandmother, Sylvia, lived. Sylvia was 106 years old and had a “regal” presence.  During the evenings, Sylvia would sit on the front porch and tell stories about her life.

Sylvia had been born into slavery.  She was 16 , the same age as Ella , when the Civil War ended and she became a free woman. Sylvia said that , although she was no longer held in bondage – she still felt like “a jigsaw puzzle with some of the pieces missing” because she was illiterate , she had never been taught how to read or write. Sylvia found ways to get by without that skill.

When Sylvia was 85 years old, she decided she was finally going to learn to read and write and sought out help from her friends and family. Sylvia then told Ella she had something special to show her. Sylvia went into her house and returned with an old, tattered piece of paper.  Ella looked and saw her great grandmother’s name, Sylvia, written on the paper. Sylvia then told Ella that when she was finally able to spell her own name, that was the day that she actually gained her freedom.

Why did I tell you this story?  Because I wanted to illustrate a very simple, yet profound, point:  Education is freedom. Education will open your minds and expand your horizons.  It will help you discover your aptitudes and your interests. Education will provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to support yourselves and your future families. Education will provide you with a solid foundation for success in whatever you choose to pursue.

We live in a highly competitive age and it?s only going to get more competitive. As Governor of this great state, one of my most important duties is to make sure that our state’s economy continues to grow and create jobs. In order to do that, I need a thorough understanding of Utah’s business environment. 

I can tell you that Utah is competing in a global market. That means, when you go out into the world to start your careers, you’re not just going to be competing with the graduates from Utah State University or Dixie State, you’ll be competing with graduates from the University of Beijing in China and the University of Sao Paolo in Brazil.

To be competitive, you need to educate yourselves beyond high school- Arm yourselves with the tools you need to compete in an economy in which geographical boundaries are becoming increasingly irrelevant. You’ll also be competing in a marketplace which will demand higher levels of education and more specialized skills and knowledge.

Research has shown that by the year 2020, two-thirds of the jobs in Utah will require a postsecondary degree or some kind of certification. Continuing your education past high school is not only a necessity in order to be competitive and employable, but it’s also a great investment.

I’m going to show you two charts on your screen. The first shows a graph of unemployment rates by education levels in our country.  I’m sure you’re all aware that, presently, we’ve got a very high unemployment rate in our country.  9.1% of workers in the United States can’t find jobs. If you’ll look at this chart, you’ll see that the unemployment rate for people with college degrees is only 4% – less than half of the national average. For people with only high school degrees, the unemployment rate is 9.4%, and for those without high school diplomas, it is around 15%.

This next chart shows the median income of people with different education levels in our country.  As you can see, those with a college degree earn twice as much, on average, as those who only have a high school diploma.

Our young people today have some unique challenges, but you also have unique educational opportunities. You have dedicated and skilled teachers and access to better resources. There are world-class universities, colleges, and technical schools available in all areas of our state. And, perhaps most importantly, you have access to technology, which essentially eliminates barriers to information and resources.

The Utah Education Network, which is broadcasting my remarks today, is available in all our Utah high schools to access classes and instructors from all over our state, meaning you no longer have to be limited to the courses offered at your high school.

We also have more concurrent enrollment courses – many of which can now be taken online. You can get a head start on your college or professional degree while you’re still in high school.

Take advantage of the technological tools that are available to you.  You are the most tech savvy generation we’ve ever had.  The only limits you’ll have on your access to knowledge are those you place on yourselves.

Let me also give you this caution:  The same technology which can infinitely expand the horizons of your education can also become an enormous time waster. Don’t waste your time and your brains in a virtual world which won’t prepare you for the real one.  You need to relax and you need to have fun, but don’t let your gaming, texting, or tweeting distract you from your studies and other worthwhile pursuits. 

You are the rising generation.  We are going to be turning things over to you soon.  Today I’m talking to the future business leaders, nurses, doctors, professors, teachers, engineers, and researchers across out state. You are the ones who will create new technologies, find solutions to our health problems, identify better ways to produce and save energy, and much more. 

You represent the future of our state, our nation, and the whole world.  Even though we have many challenges I’m optimistic about our future, because I’m optimistic about our young people. Prepare yourselves now for that future – for your future.  Take full advantage of all educational opportunities and give it all you’ve got.

My key message today is–if you want a good job, get a good education. Developing the skills necessary to compete in a world marketplace will provide you economic opportunity throughout your lifetime. 

Remember, education is freedom.