WATCH: LIFT Wyoming Aims to Prepare Teenagers for Life After High School
Being a teenager is hard. There are the every day issues that teenagers must deal with, like puberty, maintaining sufficient grades, and not looking like a complete fool when attempting to speak to the opposite sex.
But, these days, teenagers are also more apt to focus on other things, such as: 'Who am I? What am I doing? What and where is my place in the world?'
Those are tough questions for people of any age, let alone teenagers. But they're questions that the founder and presenters of LIFT Wyoming are trying to help teens answer. That's why LIFT Wyoming exists - to put high school students in contact with industry leaders, those who have built themselves up and made names for themselves in Wyoming.
Many teenagers, when asked, will say they're eager to "get out of Wyoming" upon graduation. They don't fully see or realize the incredible opportunities that Wyoming offers but, more importantly, they're not receiving guidance from those who have benefitted from the opportunities that Wyoming offers.
"One of the things that we have struggled with as a state is that our young people are literally going elsewhere [after graduation]," said Tom Grogan, a history teacher at Natrona County High School and the founder of LIFT Wyoming. "I've been teaching in our school district for 15 years and about five years ago, I had this epiphany that the greatest resource [Wyoming is] exporting is not oil or coal or natural gas; it's actually our youth."
This is true. In April of 2021, a reporter named Dustin Bleizeffer published an article on WyoFile, explaining why young people are choosing to go elsewhere after graduation. In the story, he featured a young person named Stormy Cox, who offered her reasons for moving away from Wyoming.
“In my heart I would love to stay in Wyoming …," she wrote. "The majority of my family lives in Wyoming. It’s hard to leave all of them behind and be on my own. If I could stay in Wyoming and still pursue my dreams I would.”
And that's how many young people feel. They love aspects of Wyoming but many think that in order to pursue their dreams, they need to go elsewhere.
LIFT Wyoming aims to change that.
"LIFT stands for Lead, Inspire, Fulfill, Together," Grogan said. "The whole premise is bringing our youth together with community leaders and state leaders to give them some understanding of what Wyoming actually has to offer because, really, the possibilities are endless."
But, Grogan said, building relationships between students and community leaders is key.
"Leadership and leading a community doesn't happen by accident," he said. "A very intentional plan has to be put in a place and there's a lot of earning that has to happen in order to become a leader, no matter where you go. And for our kids in Casper, and our students and young people around the state of Wyoming, we want them to know that Wyoming is a great place for them to establish themselves as leaders. The opportunities are so vast and unique, that it would be a disservice not to give them some insight into what those things are."
The purpose of LIFT is two-fold. The first is, obviously, to prepare young people for their future careers. It's designed to show teenagers what it takes to be a leader in their chosen field and in their community. But the purpose is also to entice these young people to pursue those careers and leadership opportunities in Wyoming.
The LIFT website states that, "In Wyoming, our age demographic has become lopsided with a predominantly older group of citizens. In the years to come, we will be forced to rely heavily on the leadership of our current young people to create a vision for this state and direct it where we want it to go. LIFT creates a platform to engage our young people and entice them with what Wyoming has to offer."
The website also contends that Wyoming has relied heavily on the oil and gas industry, or natural resources, to sustain its economy. If current situations have taught us anything, it's that the oil and gas industry is unpredictable. Part of what LIFT strives to do is inspire the next generation to pursue careers outside of the natural resources realm, in order to find even more ways for Wyoming to thrive economically.
That's exactly what happened during one of LIFT's smaller conferences, held earlier this year at the Clarion Inn, in Casper. Over 30 high school seniors gathered in a conference room for lunch, fellowship, and to listen to the stories of prominent community members as they shared their stories.
At the end of the conference, Grogan grabbed the microphone, offered a thanks to the students for being there, and left them with this:
"Relationships matter. Develop them and put people in your corner to help guide you and grow. And if there's anything that you can learn about going forward - mentorship matters. You've got to have people push you and guide you. I'm 38 years old, and I'm telling you right now that I have mentors in my life that helped guide me.
"[Another thing is that] being an adult is hard. Those who work are the ones that succeed. Show up early and stay late.
"The last thing - this is my final promise. Everyone in this room has a unique gift to to give to the world. All of you have something that the world desperately needs. It's your job to figure out what that thing is. You might not even know what it is yet, but you've gotta figure it out. And there's a lot of statements about how you've got to fit in somewhere, but I'm telling you right now; you have to figure out how the world fits into you, not how you fit into the world."
The next LIFT Wyoming event will be held at The Lyric in Downtown Casper on September 29, 2021. You can register for the event here.