New state tree for Utah
Utah officially has a new state tree.
The ceremonial signing of Senate Bill 41 into law took place at Monroe Elementary School March 26, commemorating the involvement of fourth grade students from the school in advocating for the change of the state tree from the Colorado blue spruce to the quaking aspen.
"It's fun, isn't it," said Sen. Ralph Okerlund, the sponsor of the bill and a native of Monroe. "This is a history changing event. For many, many years to come, when people learn about our state tree it will be the quaking aspen, and Monroe elementary was a big part of making that change happen."
Okerlund addressed the student body of 600-plus students at MES prior to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signing the bill, and talked about how it seemed not that long ago that he was in their position asking the same questions they had about why Utah's state tree was the Colorado blue spruce. He said it was impressive to him to see the students not only ask that question, but do something about it.
"You've learned at a very young age how to influence people," Okerlund said. "When these leaves turn a golden hue in the fall, we'll always remember the change we've made here this day."
As Tanner Torgerson, one of the fourth grade students who played an integral part in the process, said, "We learned that change takes time."
Torgerson told the story of how Angie Blomquist's fourth grade class had become involved in the process of persuading Gov. Herbert to consider changing the state tree to the quaking aspen when he had come to the area in September 2013 for a conference.
"We told him how aspen colonies grow together on a single root," Torgerson said. "They all work together like Utah's people. The colonies also represent our big families ... They are resilient like the people of Utah. Not to mention, we have the largest organism on Earth right here in our backyard, Pando, which is located at the entrance to Fish Lake."
Torgerson said Herbert latched onto the idea, and invited his class to be a part of the political process to introduce the change. He said it took a lot of time for the change to happen, and the students had to learn respect for people who had a different opinion, but he said it was satisfying to see that even at a young age he could be part of influencing such a change.
"Our opinion counts and when we believe something we can ... affect change," Torgerson said. "It feels pretty good being part of something so important at such a young age. Not many people get a chance to do that."
Herbert said it was exciting for him to see, in students like Tanner, what the future holds for Utah.
"I'm just excited to be here, seeing our young people getting so involved," Herbert said. "I came away feeling very excited about the future after spending time here at Monroe Elementary School."
As a sixth generation Utahn, Herbert said he has always questioned the state tree since learning it as a student in fourth grade. He said many Utahns over the years have pondered that same question, but nothing ever changed.
"These young people here actually did something about it," Herbert said. "It's a good lesson for all of us, no matter where you are or your age, you can make a difference ... I'm honored to be here today to sign this bill into law, thanks to the fourth graders at Monroe Elementary School."
As Herbert signed the bill, he used pens made from aspen by students at area middle and high schools, in aspen stands made by Lynn Parsons, on a desk made of aspen, as he sat in a rocker made of aspen by Lyman residents Phillip and Holly Clingo, who own a business manufacturing and shipping furniture made of aspen.
"It's amazing," Phillip said. "It feels so ... we feel blessed to be a part of something so historically important."
The chair was presented to the state of Utah as part of the ceremony, and is now an artifact belonging to the Utah Historical Society. For now, however, it will remain at MES as a reminder of their role in affecting change in Utah's history.
"It's on permanent loan to the school," said Ted Chappell, MES principal. "We're still trying to figure out how we're going to display it, but it will be put on display somehow."
Chappell said it will serve as a reminder of that day, and how a group of local students worked to make a big difference.
"It's been a great experience for the fourth graders to go through the process and then to have it all come together - it's been a pretty exciting time," Chappell said.
Sevier County Commissioner Gordon Topham, who was instrumental in getting the ball rolling in the process, and in bringing Blomquist's class into the mix, said it was something that had been on his mind for a long time, and this was simply something that was meant to take place when it did.
"It all came together just when it needed to, and it happened," Topham said. "It's actually happened."
Blomquist said as a teacher, it was gratifying to see her students come up with an idea like this and to be able to see it through to fruition in this scale.
"I had tears," Blomquist said. "I'm at a loss for words. It was powerful."
Blomquist said it has been fun to watch her students throughout the process, and to see the spark in their eyes and their passion to work for their goal as they talked with public officials and worked with political figures to make a difference.
"We have a new state tree," Blomquist said. "We changed our little part of the world. That was our goal and we did it."