Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson Becomes Her Own Intern

Feb 1, 2021
Originally published on February 2, 2021 2:34 pm

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.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The office of the lieutenant governor of Utah has an intern with a lot on her plate.

DEIDRE HENDERSON: One of my biggest duties is overseeing and helping to implement and make sure that the barriers are eradicated for vaccine distribution for COVID-19. And that'll probably be what I write my internship report about.

KELLY: That sounds like a high-stakes job for an intern, but it's OK because that intern is the lieutenant governor, Deidre Henderson.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

So how did Henderson become an intern in her own office? Well, the story begins when she got married after her freshman year at BYU when she was 18.

HENDERSON: 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.

CHANG: She got active in politics and was elected to the Utah state Senate in 2012.

HENDERSON: You know, I'd always just imagine that when my youngest child went back to school, so would I, right? And life happens.

KELLY: Henderson says after a while, the thing that kept her from getting her degree was shame over not having that degree. But she learned to let that go.

HENDERSON: You know, I'm not the only one in this situation. 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, to help inspire them to just do it.

CHANG: So in 2014, when Henderson was a state senator, she returned to the BYU campus, and it was an eye-opener.

HENDERSON: The department heads came in to the room one day to talk about the legislative internship opportunities. And I realized with, like, 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 (laughter). So I'm like, well, God bless America. I can be the state senator, but I cannot be the state senator's intern.

KELLY: Well, now she qualifies. And now as lieutenant governor, Henderson is having fun with being her own intern.

HENDERSON: I had to have an internship adviser (ph) sign my internship form, so I got the governor to do it.

CHANG: Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson is on track to graduate from BYU this year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.