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In 1939, Clarke Johnson was an 18-year-old boy in Brigham City, newly graduated from Box Elder High School. One afternoon in early September, the father of his best friend stopped him on the street. He was on his way to Ogden to register his own son for the fall quarter that was just beginning at Weber Junior College. He put Clarke in the car and took him along, got him registered for classes and paid his tuition—$17. Every day that year, young Clarke hitch-hiked from Brigham City to Ogden. He owned a single hand-me-down shirt that he wore every day and laundered every night. He got a job sweeping the gym and played on the basketball team.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Clarke left school and joined the Army. The Army sent him to study at Lehigh University, but as D-Day approached, he was transferred to the infantry, sent to France, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and marched on to Berlin.
After the war, with his new GI benefits, Clarke enrolled as an English major at Utah State University. When he graduated in 1947, he was hired to teach in the Tooele School District and served with distinction for more than 35 years, first as a teacher and coach, then as a principal and finally as the district superintendent. My son, Steven, attended Clarke N. Johnson Junior High School, named in honor of that boy who hitch-hiked every day from Brigham City.
Our challenges today are significant and they are different. But we shame ourselves and our forbearers if we say that we have it harder than previous generations. We are the beneficiaries of the courage and sacrifice of preceding generations. Today, too often, I hear people say that the efforts we’re asked to make for future generations are too great, that it is too much to ask. I believe there are too many who ask for greater efficiency when they really mean less effort. I hope we will look backward and recognize that our freedom and prosperity are the result of heroic efforts of people who had much less and gave much more than we may ever understand.
This I can say for certain: A student who, supported by family, fully engages in the opportunities available in a Utah public school, will receive an education equal to and competitive with any he or she could get anywhere in the world. Our challenge is make certain that this chance is available to all students and to engage every student to take full advantage of this great and uniquely American opportunity.