Weber State University’s Shepherd Union Building was brimming with high school students on Wednesday who came from all over the state of Utah to participate in the Multicultural Youth Leadership Summit.
Participants, some of whom had not previously been on a college campus, were given the opportunity to hear speakers such as new Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox, keynote speaker Judge Andrew A. Valdez of the Third District Juvenile Court, second-grade winner of the Martin Luther King Speech Contest John Haugland of Mountain View Elementary School, and youth engagement company CoolSpeak, whose motto is “improving education, inspiring learning and infusing cool.” They also did various networking workshops and breakout sessions to learn what recourses are available to them to achieve their dreams.
Cox, in his second week as lieutenant governor, said he had been looking forward to this event the most out of everything on his calendar, and that working with the youth, especially the minority youth, is a huge priority of his.
“I absolutely want to continue participating in these events,” Cox said. “It (the summit) brings them hope more than anything, and if they get hope and a little bit of inspiration, the sky is the limit, and I really think nothing can hold them back, and with the lineup they have today, I see an opportunity for a truly inspirational program that can change lives, and that’s what we’re hoping for.”
The Utah Office of Multicultural Affairs, a division of the Utah Department of Heritage & Arts, had such great success with its first summit earlier this year that it wanted to host another summit for the students who were unable to attend. Having only expected 650 students, the department’s executive director, Julie Fisher, said she was ecstatic when she found more than 1,000 students had signed up.
“Six hundred and fifty was the number we had in our last group, so that is what the expectation was,” Fisher said. “When we found out we exceeded it, it really surprised us. The word has just spread like wildfire. I guess the best thing I can say is I hope that we have lifted these kids up and motivated them to stay in school . . . and go on to get their college degree.”
WSU College of Health Professions director Kevin Karician, this being his fourth WSU conference, said he thought having the summit at WSU creates a great a opportunity for students around the state from different backgrounds and cultures to come together and learn about the local, state and national events that will affect them throughout their college careers.
“It gives them a little bit of networking with other students around the state to try to make some friends,” Karician said. “It teaches them all different kinds of activities. They have some workshops set up for undocumented students and then strategies for them to get into college, as well as counseling advising classes, financial aid, and it is kind of based on sophomore, junior, senior and what they need to do to get prepared for college.”
Valdez aimed for the students’ hearts by telling his true life story, as documented in his book “No One Makes It Alone.” Valdez grew up in poverty as a paperboy, and said his world consisted of a nine-block radius. Jack Keller, a white businessman, walked passed him every day, and Valdez would mouth off and ask him why he never purchased a paper from him. Finally Keller decided to take him in and mentor him as a young boy.
“Jack Keller expanded my world,” Valdez said. “He introduced me to people who had gone to school, people who were successful, people who were lawyers. He introduced me to people who had money, good clothes, good cars, and who talked differently — an all-white society. All white. But they embraced me.”
Valdez lost touch with Keller, but many years later recognized him at a grocery store when he was about to be arrested. Keller had been living on the streets with Alzheimer’s for quite some time, and Valdez took him in and cared for him until his death.
Michael Stepha, a junior at Layton High School, said he had been to the summit earlier this year and that he was really enjoying being at WSU this time. He said it gives the students a sense of what college is really like.
“I am learning a lot from it (the summit),” Michael said. “There are a lot of great speakers out there. It’s just really nice that this is becoming a big thing. I used to not think that Weber State was a good college, I really did not, but it’s not about prestige; it’s about the resources, and I think that Weber State has a lot of great resources, and I think this is a really great college to go to.”