I recently attended the 2019 Wyoming Governor’s Business Forum where my goal was to walk away with great ideas from the various sessions and write an article perhaps geared toward business strategies, support of local businesses, or even the state’s changing demographics. The keynote speakers were some of the finest I’ve heard. There were informative panel discussions featuring well known authors, consultants and government officials. There were plenty of networking opportunities with key stakeholders and community leaders. But just as I planned for a traditional story, my plan went out the door. BOOM. In front of me was one of the greatest stories I never expected. I was drawn in immediately by the panel’s honesty, integrity, humor and smarts. Yes, this group was wise beyond their years and the audience knew it. At the end of the session, like a good concert, I wanted it to go on. “Please don’t stop” I said. “I am enjoying this too much!” Did I hear this group correctly or had I fallen asleep from the high carb lunch and was dreaming?

For 45 minutes, our audience had the pleasure of listening to some of Wyoming’s best: 8   youth leaders on their views about the next 20 years in Wyoming and what their generation of workers need to succeed. I walked away in awe of their wisdom, their commitment, but most of all, their truths.

Meet Wyoming’s newest leaders. Meet Wyoming’s tomorrow. Wyatt, Gracelyn, Tanner, Jacob, Kayla, Heidi, Kaci and Rudy. These 8 students, as well as many other students throughout our Wyoming schools, will make Wyoming a greater state because they are a part of it. And they want to stay. Now yes, some have desires to pursue more diverse or specialized career paths and those choices will most likely take them out of state for education, post education and job opportunities, but many of these students are from families of third and fourth generation ranchers, farmers and welders who want to stay. Some of these students are the first in their families to attend and graduate from two- and four-year degree programs. Just like their families, they want to do great things in their communities and put their mark on the world. They think openly and wisely about the future of their state. They don’t mince words either. As my father would say, “I calls it as I sees it.” Articulate? Yes. Honest and humbled? Yes. Listening to these empowered young men and women struck me in a way I never expected. Many stories have since been written about these students since the conference ended. I like to refer to them as the Elite 8. Story angles range from exposing elementary and junior high students to various career pathways, to showing them jobs that are outside of the typical careers — like doctors, lawyers and teachers. Other angles talk about the need for these students to move out of Wyoming because of low job pay or opportunity. Regardless of other storylines and angles, what stood out about this group for me was their ability to articulate what they want in life, what is important to them and how they plan to get there.

I’ve been to many conferences and conventions in my day and I’ve heard my fair share of keynotes and guest speakers. But this November day, we listened to a handful of empowered young men and women who want to succeed and to shape the future of their state while leaving a legacy of their own in Wyoming.

So, kudos to the teachers, counselors, parents and siblings who encouraged these fine individuals at an early age to believe in themselves, to work hard, to have a voice and to cherish their state. After hearing their discussion, it was inevitable that the title of this Align Angle was no longer about how we can develop and retain good workers in our community to Wyoming’s Elite 8. Shaping the Future of our State, One Voice at a Time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Cathy Drzal for the Align Team