Gruening Middle School seventh grader Erick Vanderhoofven displays a "Choose Respect" lanyard handed out during a speech by Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell on March 14 at the school. The lanyards are part of an initiative by Gov. Sean Parnell to help curb Alaska's high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault.
STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH
Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell's long journey to Ernest Gruening Middle School began with a chat with the iconic former U.S. senator himself.
"He actually helped convince me to become an Alaskan," Treadwell said shortly after speaking in front of more than 100 students at the Eagle River school.
Treadwell opened his speech by telling the students that he went to high school with Gruening, who served as territorial governor before becoming one of Alaska's first U.S. senators in 1959.
That's not exactly true.
"He did go to the same high school as I did," Treadwell said.
The two politicians both attended high school in Lakeville, Conn., although Treadwell didn't meet Gruening until the elder statesman was nearly 90 years old. Still, that meeting - when Treadwell was 18 - had a big impact on the future lieutenant governor's life. He told the students how Gruening convinced him to take a summer job in Alaska, which led to Treadwell's eventual decision to put down roots in the Last Frontier.
"I said I was going to visit for two weeks, and he said, 'That's not enough time to see the state. There's 365 million acres, a million acres for every day in the year,'" Treadwell remembered. "...He said get yourself a summer job and see more of the state, and I did."
Gruening principal Bobby Jeffs said he was pleased Treadwell was able to share a personal memory of the school's namesake.
"I think kids need to know about Ernest Gruening and who he was," Jeffs said.
Treadwell covered more than just history during his hourlong speech. He also discussed current events like Alaska's future role in Arctic resource development, the need to fully fund education and Gov. Parnell's "Choose Respect" initiative, which seeks to curb the state's high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault.
"We are trying to bring those issues out of the closet," he said.
Gruening teacher Lisa Andersen, who said she felt Treadwell's message resonated strongly with students, coordinated the visit.
"He really connects well with the students," Andersen said.
During his speech, Treadwell described some of his duties in Juneau, which include overseeing state elections, administering the citizen initiative process and overseeing the commercial use of the Alaska State Seal.
"I don't really know much about politics, but I learned a lot," said seventh grader Erick Vanderhoofven. "I never knew what people like the governor and lieutenant governor do."
A staunch supporter of oil and gas development, Treadwell said the state needs to find ways to increase the flow of oil in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which is currently running at about one-third capacity.
"Getting oil and gas flowing is very important for funding education," he said.
Treadwell also spoke about the need for Alaska to play a strong role in developing its resources and taking advantage of opportunities presented by changing climate conditions in the Arctic.
Student Julia Geskey said she was particularly intrigued by Treadwell's message that Alaska needs to do more to develop its untapped mineral resources.
"It kind of told you things that you might not have known before, like how the ice is melting and how there is oil there that could help the state," she said.
Treadwell said he enjoys speaking with non-voting members of his constituency, and said he was happy to stress the value of a good education to the Gruening students.
"If they go for the advanced placement courses, they're going to do better in school, they're going to get scholarships and it's going to make the state more competitive," he said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at email@example.com or 694-2727 ext. 215
This article published in The Alaska Star on Thursday, March 17, 2011.