SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Governor Spencer Cox is on a mission to visit each of Utah’s 29 counties this year to meet with students, residents and local business owners. On Monday, he kicked off what he’s calling the “Connecting Utah Tour” at Tooele High School.
“I believe in the future because I believe in you,” Cox said at the assembly at Tooele High School, where the auditorium was packed with students and local officials who wanted to hear his vision and goals for the future.
“[The students] see what’s happening in the world. They’re really paying attention and we’re very blessed in Utah to have some of the best students in the world, including right here in Tooele City,” he said.
Cox spoke about education in the state as an issue that worries him, but it’s one thing he’s focused on improving.
“One of the things I am worried about is making sure that we have the best education system in the world, and that we are paying our teachers enough so that they can make a living and so that some of you will also want to become teachers, so I am very grateful this year that we signed the largest increase in education funding in our state’s history,” he said.
Cox also talked about housing and working with cities, counties and the legislature to build more homes. He pointed out his concerns with water conservation and the recent legislation that was passed in an effort to help.
“This year, we passed 500 million dollars in water funding, 500 million dollars last year as well. That’s one billion dollars more than ever in our state’s history to work on this issue and make sure we have enough water to drink and enough water to get to the end of the row and fill up the Great Salt Lake,” he said.
Students asked him questions, focusing on a range of topics from diversity, technology, art and mental health, where he talked about the new suicide prevention hotline 9-8-8 and the SafeUT app.
Things turned somber when Cox decided to share a personal story with the audience.
“When I was 11 years old, my parents got divorced, and that was a really hard time for me,” Cox said. “At that same time, I went to middle school, I was a victim of bullying for a couple of years. I just went to a really dark place and started thinking that maybe the world would be a better place if I wasn’t there.”
Cox added that he was very fortunate that he was able to talk to friends, family members, teachers, and counselors who were incredibly helpful in encouraging him to see the world in a better light.
“I will be forever grateful for them — for their love of me, for seeing something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” he said. “I am really glad I stayed. My message to all of you is if some of you are feeling that way now, I need you to stay. I need you to talk to someone. I am so glad that we are investing in counselors now.”
At one point, he asked students to describe the state of the United States today – one student used the word “divided.”
Cox addressed this topic and what can be done going forward.
“Unfortunately, we have adults setting a bad example about how we should disagree and work on solutions, and I really think [the students] the future. They’re gonna figure this out, reminding us how to disagree better,” he said.
Cox said Monday’s stop on the Connecting Utah Tour was a great opportunity to learn about today’s youth. Students shared they were grateful to be heard.
“I think this is a great step forward, listening to our questions and taking the time to answer them. I think what should be done more is valuing student and youth opinions on the way our future is going,” said one student who was on the on-stage panel during the assembly.
Cox said his next stops on the Connecting Utah tour will be in Cedar City and St. George in early April.