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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Gov. Gary Herbert speaks to ninth-grade students during a question-and-answer session at South Hills Middle School in Riverton on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018.

SOUTH JORDAN — A small group of South Hills Middle School students had some questions for Gov. Gary Herbert, who stopped by and talked with the teens Wednesday.

Their questions ranged from population growth and urban sprawl to the governor's thoughts on medical marijuana and the recent news of the retirement of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

"I don't think a lot of people get to talk to the governor like this," said Samantha Crapo, 14.

Samantha said she was impressed to learn of "all the things (Herbert) is working on to improve the state."

"He is really busy," she said, "and I'm grateful he took the time to come talk to us."

Before Christmas, each ninth-grader in Joe Cochran's advanced placement human geography class planned at least two questions for the governor. Cochran said he was pleased with what his students came up with, adding that they'll definitely address the topics in class.

"It was a cool and unique experience for these kids," he said. "Issues of urban growth and dealing with agriculture and transportation that are impacted by that are important but kind of deep for 14-year-olds, so it helps to have a practical understanding of them that they got from the governor."

Herbert talked about his own childhood and humble upbringings, when he learned how to work hard and make do with what he had.

A "family slogan" coined by his grandfather and has spanned generations, he said, is "work will win when wishy-washy wishing won't."

The skills came in handy for a younger Herbert as the real estate market he worked in crashed in the mid-1980s and he and his wife, Jeanette, had to switch gears and open a preschool/day care to make ends meet.

One thing led to another, Herbert said, and he ultimately got into politics.

"Who would have thought that the tragedy of my business would lead me to run for office?" the governor said, adding that people are in charge of their own destiny.

Herbert talked about how dealing with Utah's rapid population increase "keeps me up at night."

"We are the fastest-growing state in America," he said. "And it's like a black hole, with everyone being sucked into the Wasatch Front."

The urban density, Herbert said, leads to issues with transportation and economic development, as well as pollution.

"I think about how to accommodate (the growth rate) without diminution of our quality of life," he said. "That's important."

On the topic of medical marijuana, Herbert said as long as there is appropriate research and scientific evidence to back it, it likely will be legalized in Utah — someday.

"I think it's gonna happen," he said.

Carter Darger, 14, said he paid special attention to the governor because he's recently become enthralled with politics and may even run for office one day.

"I learned a lot about Utah, about how government works, the logistics, the policies and plans Gov. Herbert has for the future," Carter said, adding that Herbert seemed "nice and a hard worker. He has a lot of aspirations for people."

"It's easy to think, 'Oh, he's a politician,' but he's no different than what we could be," Carter said.

Herbert said he never really planned on being a politician, but the opportunity came at the perfect time, and he decided he could learn from it, regardless of the outcome.

The governor also expressed concern for the increasing number of teen suicides in the state, saying such cases are happening "too much."

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"Why are we not reaching out to people and putting our arm around them?" he asked, adding that such actions could help society as a whole, including in politics.

Herbert encouraged the teens to not only work hard and learn much, but to be attentive to others and inspire more civility in daily living.

"There is so much instability in politics and life," he said. "We can do better."

Cochran said Herbert's personal experiences and stories will resonate with the students, as they "need to hear how it works for other people."

"It was a cool experience," Samantha said. "I got to shake his hand."