Lawmakers, students celebrate Multicultural Day at the Utah Capitol

Michael A. Kruse

Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY- More than 800 K-12 students from across the state packed the Capitol rotunda as lawmakers and educators and classmates encouraged them to stay in school and live their dreams.

“It’s great for them to see people that have a community beyond their school,” said Claudia Nakamo, director of the Utah Office of Multicultural Affairs, speaking of the importance of the Feb. 19 Multicultural Day event to students.

The event stresses the importance of education and civic engagement, Nakamo said, adding that US Census estimates show that by 2043 minorities will become the majority in Utah. It’s important for lawmakers to keep in mind that this is the future of Utah, she said.

Multicultural Day award recipients

Multicultural Day award recipients

The event supports Gov. Gary Herbert’s initiative “66 in 2020,” a goal he set for 66 percent of Utahns ages 20 to 64 to have a post-secondary degree or certificate by 2020.

Geoff Fattah, Director of Communications for the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts, said minority students face challenges getting through school including lower income issues and language barriers. Still, the biggest factor that can help them graduate is for them to see themselves in their education.

Speakers, selected from among students and lawmakers, encouraged the students to stay in school. One student, 15-year-old Syeda Hashmi, from Taylorsville High School, moved to America from Pakistan four years ago to enhance her educational opportunities, she said.

Hashmi was bullied at first, due to her religion and race, she said. Although it was hard for her to overcome these obstacles, she knew how much her dad had sacrificed to get her to America, and she had to put her education above everything else, she said.

“It doesn’t matter if people bully me or stuff, I came here to graduate,” Hashmi said.  She encouraged other kids to not give up, adding that no matter who you are or where you’re from, you can always strive to do your best.

Hashmi said when she’s done with college she wants to open a hospital in her home country and name it in honor of her father.

Adrienne Andrews, Assistant to the President for Diversity at Weber State University gave the keynote address. “No matter who you are, you matter,” she told the audience. “You matter to me, you matter to all the people in this building who are making laws that will impact your life.”

State and national lawmakers spoke to the students all well. Congressmen Rob Bishop, R-Utah, stressed the importance of getting a college education and told the students that a post-secondary degree is paramount to carving out a good living for themselves.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes echoed Bishop’s remarks.

“A lot of people think the American dream guarantees success. The American dream only guarantees opportunities,” Reyes said, reiterating the importance of staying in school and staying away from drugs.

The Attorney General then presented awards to three teachers and three students, who were selected by educators and students throughout the state. Braydon Eden Janalee Purtle, and Thomas Hutchinson earned the teacher awards, while Kyra John, Helen Sanchez, and Diana Phung received the student awards for outstanding achievement in social judgment.

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