Guest Opinions

Idaho’s leaders rise up from a variety of circumstances

Idahoans are great believers in human potential. Ours is a state with a strong faith in the opportunities that lie before us.

I was grateful to see Gov. Butch Otter devote so much of his State of the State address to education. I applaud his vision.

When we discuss the value of education, we often refer to the economic benefits of a strong education beyond high school. Those arguments are valid and worthy of consideration, but we should think beyond the linkage of degrees and paychecks. We should remember that Idaho’s future leaders are in its schools right now, whether K-12, community college or, yes, in its law schools.

At Concordia University School of Law, we are determined to graduate servant leaders for tomorrow. That mission drives our curriculum, and it’s why we believe so strongly in the complete spectrum of an Idaho education. Without a multilayered system that serves students at all levels, we are potentially depriving ourselves of the leaders and civic pillars who will help Idaho achieve its true potential.

For an example, I’d turn to the Honorable Sergio A. Gutierrez, Judge of the Idaho Court of Appeals. Judge Gutierrez grew up in modest circumstances and earned his GED through the Job Corps, at Portland State University. From there he graduated cum laude from Boise State University before getting his law degree from the University of California, Hastings Law School. If you ask Judge Gutierrez which of his degrees make him most proud, he’ll tell you it was his GED, because it got him off to a new start in life.

Last year we at Concordia Law presented Judge Gutierrez with our “Leaders in Action” award, to celebrate his role as a galvanizing force for Idahoans to improve community, equality and education. Whether it’s serving on the Governor’s Coordinating Council for Children & Families or visiting schools and youth organizations to inspire students to pursue their education, Judge Gutierrez is exactly the sort of servant leader Idaho needs. He embodies Concordia University’s mission to prepare leaders for the transformation of society.

The nontraditional but effective path of Judge Gutierrez is admirable, and shows us that as we approach education funding reform, we need to be sure that we’re supporting all levels of our system. We need to be sure we allow for multiple pathways to success. Consider that of the 185 students who have matriculated at Concordia University School of Law since it opened, almost one third of them attended community college at some point in their education.

That tells me we have determined students in our school, who have defied long odds and a culture that does not uniformly celebrate academic achievement, to pursue one of the most difficult degrees available. Those are just the kinds of leaders Idaho needs. They have grit. They have vision.

As our state senators and representatives consider the budget options and ideas laid out by Gov. Otter this year, I hope they will consider the many pathways to success that Idaho students might need. Doing so will allow Idahoans to fulfill their potential and provide this great state with the leadership it deserves.

Cathy Silak, the founding dean of Concordia University School of Law, is a former member of the Idaho Supreme Court.