NORTH SALT LAKE — Rich Kendell has seen first-hand the difference an education makes.
He’s seen it in his own life, in the lives of his friends and in the lives of those he has worked with.
But not only has he seen that difference, he has worked to make it a reality in the lives of children and adults of all ages.
For his life-long efforts, Kendell was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters during this year’s commencement ceremony at the University of Utah on May 1.
Kendell received his bachelor of science at Weber State and both a master’s of science and a Ph.D. from the University of Utah in leadership and policy.
Davis County residents may remember his 10-year tenure as superintendent of schools for Davis School District, but his career has also included two years as a regents professor for the board of regents, five years as the commissioner of higher education for the Utah System of Higher Education, two years as deputy for public education for governors Michael Leavitt and Olene Walker, and other responsibilities at the state and university levels.
At the University of Utah, he served as associate dean of the graduate school for six years and of the school of education for two more.
Most recently, Kendell spent seven months as interim president of Southern Utah University, a responsibility he and his wife, Joan, considered a “tremendous experience,” he said.
“Every time you can get a young person to get a good education, I think it is the key to their future success as it opens the door for them to be a self-sustaining person and get a good job eventually,” he said.
More than a job, said Kendell, an education is “the opportunity of a lifetime to better your life.”
“An education will enrich your life. It will help you to be a better family member, to be a better spouse, to take better care of your health, to enjoy things in life,” he said.
Kendell tells of getting together with a a group of friends at the time of a 50-year reunion.
Though they had all come from humble homes, each had accomplished great things in fields from business to science, writing to research to education.
Their successes, he said, came as a result of parents who believed in education and from attending “just regular public schools.”
During his service as superintendent of Davis County Schools, Kendell remembers facing the inevitable conflicts that would arise over school boundaries and other issues.
“We tried everything you could imagine” to deal with growth of schools in the county, he said, which included switching some schools to a year-round schedule, passing bond measures for new schools and raising taxes.
He still expresses concern over the large number of students in Utah’s classrooms, the limited resources, and the fact that Utah makes the “lowest investment (in education) of any of the 50 states on a per student bases.”
For his efforts, Kendell was named Utah Superintendent of the Year in 1993 and later went on to become one of four finalists for National Superintendent of the year in 1994.
The new Davis School District administration building built in 1997 is named in his honor.
“I think I can say without reservation that there was not a day that I didn’t feel that this was worthwhile,” he said.
Kendell’s advice to University students is to take advantage of the opportunity for an education.
“Try to learn in the moment,” he said. “Take advantage of it now – going to class, doing your homework is part of the process but if you miss the lectures, if you miss the events, the arts, if you miss campus life, you’ve shortchanged yourself. Showing up and finishing is a big part of the deal.”
There is no place like the United States to get an education, said Kendell.
“We have the most open system of education maybe in the world,” he said. “Our higher education system especially is the envy of the world.”
And it is people like Rich Kendell who have worked to make it that way.