But warns ‘extreme polarization’ is placing America in peril
EPHRAIM—Just as Snow College has evolved from a struggling institution in two rooms of the Ephraim Co-op, this year’s graduates will evolve and adopt throughout their lives, Lt. Gov. Diedre Henderson told a Snow College commencement audience last week.
“Embracing lifelong learning will make all the difference on your journey,” she told graduates Friday May 6 during the colorful commencement in Terry Foote Stadium.
But in the course of defining what lifelong learning means, Henderson warned about what she termed “extreme polarization” in America.
“There seems to be no issue too small to turn into a political wedge with both sides painting the other as not just wrong, but evil,” she said.
“There have been serious divisions in the country before. That’s nothing new. What’s new is this time social media consumption not only insulates use from other opinions, it also incentivizes us to perpetuate the rhetoric that receives the most ‘likes’ in our confirmation-based bubbles…
“This opinion-based isolation is bad for our society,” she said “It’s bad for our country. It places the American project in peril.”
She said the foundation of America is a civic culture in which individuals and families live their lives as they see fit, but come together voluntarily to solve their joint problems. “Coming together is what we need to do better right now,” she said.
The Ephraim exercises followed a smaller commencement Thursday morning, May 5, at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield, and a convocation Thursday afternoon for bachelor’s-degree recipients at the Eccles Center in Ephraim.
Among the three groups, the college awarded 1,317 degrees and certificates to 1,144 graduates. (Some graduates received more than one degree or other award.) The graduates represented 26 of 29 Utah counties, 24 states and 32 countries.
President Brad Cook opened the outdoor commencement on Friday by recalling his own arrival at Snow as a student 39 years ago.
“Let me assure you,” he said, “there is really, truly, no place like this college.” While a lot has changed, he said there’s much that hasn’t changed “in terms of Snow College’s nurturing spirit.”
The president talked about recognitions Snow College has received recently. Although the awards won’t be formally presented until June, he announced the college will receive six Best-of-State gold medals, up from four gold medals last year.
Significantly, the Best-of-State program named Snow College the “best educational institution” in Utah, which means best among all schools, both K-12, and colleges and universities.
“And this is the second year in a row” in which Snow was so honored. “That is a lot to be proud of,” he said. “…Ten gold medals in two years. It’s remarkable.”
Cook noted that the Chronicle of Higher Education, “the premier higher education journal,” had ranked Snow College No. 1 among two-year colleges for student success. The rating reflects the percentage of students who do not drop out, but complete their programs or move on to further education.
Then the president turned to presentation of honorary doctorates in humane letters, which went to two legislative leaders and to Lt. Gov. Henderson.
He said it wasn’t common for multiple public officials to receive honorary degrees in the same year, “but this is not a common year.”
He explained that after researching years of data, it became evident Snow College had been historically underfunded.
“So we went to work to identify what we needed to do to right size our budgets, and after a lot of ups and downs, we received word that our ongoing budget, beginning this July, will be the largest in history.”
He said the increase reflects the work of a few key legislators, including Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, who is Senate majority leader and chairman of the higher education committee, and Sen. Stuart Adams, Senate president, both of whom received honorary degrees.
Cook said Henderson, during multiple terms in the Utah State Senate before Gov. Spencer Cox chose her as his running mate, had been a champion for government transparency and an advocate for women and families.
“As lieutenant governor, she has launched multiple initiatives, all of which are directed at making a difference in the lives of Utahns,” he said.
He noted that last December, Henderson returned to college and completed a bachelor’s degree, “all while serving the public in elected roles.”
In other parts of her commencement talk, Henderson talked about being “painfully insecure” as pre-teen. In seventh grade, she ran for class secretary, but was too shy and embarrassed to campaign or ask anyone to vote for her.
“In fact,” she said, “I was so scared that I hid in the girls bathroom during the assembly where the winners were announced. It’s probably no surprise that I didn’t win the race.”
Yet today, she is the second woman in state history to be elected governor, a fact. she said, that illustrates the importance of learning from failures
Henderson also talked about the need to search for information and truth throughout one’s life.
“That means we don’t simply accept what we’re told or seek answers that fit with our preconceived opinions,” she said. “It means listening, getting proximate and seeking diverse opinions to have all the information to reach an informed conclusion.
“In your search for truth, don’t be afraid to stand alone and ask the questions that the crowd is not asking. Embracing lifelong learning means understanding other points of view.”