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Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson Becomes Her Own Intern

Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, pictured in February at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. Henderson is on track to earn her undergraduate degree this year.
Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, pictured in February at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. Henderson is on track to earn her undergraduate degree this year.

The new intern for Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson has a lot on her plate.

She's been working on solving problems related to COVID-19 vaccine distribution. And "that'll probably be what I write my internship report about," she tells All Things Considered.

If that sounds like a high stakes job for an intern, it is.

But the intern is no ordinary student: Her name is Deidre Henderson.

In addition to being lieutenant governor, Henderson is a student at Brigham Young University pursuing an undergraduate history degree. The internship is for credits she needs to graduate.

Henderson says that earning her degree has been a long time in the making.

"I got married after my freshman year at BYU," she says. "I was 18 years old. I had five babies in eight years. I spent 13 years after that, you know, working to get my husband through physical therapy school, wiping noses and bottoms, doing all of those things."

After family put college on the backburner, she says she "kind of fell into" politics. Henderson worked as political director and campaign manager for former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, before being elected herself to the Utah state Senate in 2012.

She's represented Utah's 7th District since then, while occasionally picking up online courses and doing independent study. "I'd always just imagined that when my youngest child went back to school, so would I. ... And life happens."

In 2014, Henderson went back to classes in person for the first time in several years. One day her department heads came to her class to talk about legislative internship opportunities.

"And I realized with horror, and it was kind of funny, too, that I didn't qualify to be my own intern because I didn't have enough credits under my belt at the time," Henderson says. "I can be the state senator, but I cannot be the state senator's intern."

Henderson says, after a while, the thing that kept her from getting her degree was feeling shame about not already having it. But she finally decided to stop being ashamed.

"I'm not the only one in this situation," she says. "I'm not the only one who had to put my own education and my own plans aside for a time to focus on my family and to prioritize other things and to save up money so that I could pay for college. I'm certainly not the only woman in this situation."

"And so I just decided to be open about it and to be transparent about it and to hopefully encourage other women or men who are in a similar situation, where they're wanting to go back, but maybe feeling awkward about it, too, to help inspire them to just do it."

In 2020, she won election as Utah's lieutenant governor and took office last month. Now that she has enough credits to be her own intern, she's enjoying it.

"It's been really fun. I had to have an internship supervisor sign my internship form, so I got the governor to do it."

Henderson is on track to graduate from BYU this year.

Gabe O'Connor and Sarah Handel produced and edited the audio version of this story.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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