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Gov. Spencer Cox promotes tolerance, engagement, mental health during visit to Wasatch High School

A student panel including (L-R) Hank Hanssen, Sebastian Suarez, Jena Mahoney, Tyson Averett and Lauren Holmes shared the stage with Gov. Spencer Cox at Wasatch High School Wednesday.

Earlier this week, Governor Spencer Cox stopped by Wasatch High School. During a high-energy speech and Q&A session, he got vulnerable while discussing some of the challenges young people face that are most personal to him.

After a warm welcome in the school auditorium Wednesday, Cox touted highlights of his term, including social media restrictions, water bills and tax cuts. He also made points about why there’s never been a better time to be alive and no better place to live than Utah.

“I’ve been to a lot of high schools, and I’ve never felt the energy I feel today at Wasatch High,” Cox said. “So, congratulations; this is really impressive.”

Cox and a panel of five students asked each other questions.

Students’ questions touched on what skills to learn in high school, how the state determines education funding and how to balance political pressures with openness to change.

Lauren Holmes asked Cox what advice he would give his teenage self. He said those years were a dark time for him between family issues and being bullied, and he would tell his younger self that life gets better.

“I remember that first week in middle school, I got put in a garbage can in the middle of the hallway as people were walking by. There was some bullying there,” Cox said. “I started to think that the world would be a better place if I wasn’t around. And I share that because I know, statistically, there are several people in the audience today who have had those thoughts in the past year.”

Next, he urged the roughly 1,000 high-schoolers to seek help if they have suicidal thoughts and to check in with friends who may be struggling.

“I need you to stay,” Cox said. “I desperately need you to stay. We need all of you. There is something very special in your future, something special for you to accomplish, something that only you can do in this life, people whose lives only you can touch, and we need you here for that. And I’m very grateful for good people in my life who helped me see there was a brighter future ahead for me.”

He told people they should use the SafeUT app if they prefer that option for reaching a mental health professional.

After Cox asked the student panel its favorite and least favorite things about high school, he also asked the crowd to think of one word to describe the country. Responses included “divided,” “potential” and “superior.”

Hank Hanssen said he’s concerned about the state of the nation because of political division.

“The opposing views are not the problem; it’s what we do with those and how adamant we are to the people that don’t believe the same things, and that is just hurtful,” Hanssen said. “That is sad, and I think that we are so united together, and as we break apart further and further, I think that is really detrimental to the strength of our nation and our state.”

Cox repeatedly encouraged the students to tolerate and learn from people they disagree with.

The visit was one of three to high schools Cox made Wednesday, between assemblies at Uintah High School and Park City High School. It’s part of an initiative the governor began last month to visit all of Utah’s 29 counties and meet with students, residents and business owners.

After the speech at Wasatch High, Cox said he’s gained appreciation for young Utahns’ ideas.

“I've learned that we underestimate sometimes our young people, our amazing students,” Cox said. “They're paying more attention than we give them credit for. They actually have ideas and solutions that we need to listen to.”

Here's a video of the full assembly:

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