While weeding my garden last year I came across a caterpillar and did what many parents of young children do; I put it in a jar so that my kids could watch it transform into a swallowtail butterfly.
Over the next few days they eagerly watched the caterpillar build a cocoon and saw it change from bright green to deep brown, wondering what exactly was happening to the critter inside. One morning we found out.
I came into the kitchen and my husband whispered the bad news. The butterfly had emerged overnight and was now wriggling upside down in a puddle of dark liquid, one wing still clumped and jerked to a side. I inserted a stick for the butterfly to grasp, hoping if it could right-side itself things would be okay. But the wing was irreparably damaged and the conversation shifted to what type of future a butterfly that can’t fly has in the wild. I share this story because it illustrates the truth: transformation is hard.
Transformation takes time, effort, and often a push to change. Sometimes it’s for the better. And sometimes it’s because the path we were on ends without notice and we have to find another way forward. At least, that was the case for Debbie ‘87, M.S. ‘89 and James ‘87, M.E. ‘93 Cook.
In 2016, the couple found themselves in the shipwrecked position of losing a child in a car accident during a family vacation. Suddenly they had to navigate life without their daughter Julie Cook ’14, and how to make sure people don’t forget her. In “Turning Grief into Good” senior writer Jeff Hunter ’96 describes how the Cooks found a way to honor her legacy by establishing a scholarship at the Huntsman School of Business because “she was really interested in lifting people up.” That gift continues to shape the lives of USU students like Star Stevens ‘21 — at the time, a single mom of three children going to school to improve their lives.
At Utah State University, the initial kernels of transformation often begin in a petri dish or a discussion about how to collect data differently. And sometimes, Aggies like Abby Cox ‘98 put change making at the center of their efforts. During this era of increased polarity among the populace, Cox is using her platform as Utah’s First Lady to draw people together and “get proximate to one another” with her Show Up initiative. The goal is to encourage all Utahns to reach out to the people in the communities with different points of view and experiences and to show up with empathy. One way this happens, Cox says, is through schools adopting the Special Olympics Unified Sports program, which pairs players with and without disabilities on the same teams.
“This is changing the entire school environment,” she says. “This is a loving kind and compassionate student body because they are seeing what this can become, what they can become through this program. So, to me this is bigger than one classroom or one child, this is an entire movement that I think the state of Utah can shine as an amazing example of an inclusion revolution.”
As a mom of two small people, and a member of the Aggie family, that is the type of change I am excited to witness.