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Alumni Lecture Fizzes with Nostalgia, Motivation, and Flavor

Read Time: 3 minutes

Drawing on Past and Present, Nebo Superintendent Provides Inspiration for Future

A photo of Rick Nielsen standing at a podium, with an image of the small town where he grew up in the background.Nostalgic, touching, and full of flavor, Rick Nielsen’s speech for Brigham Young University’s Alumni Achievement Awards gave listeners a peek into his past, inspiration for the future, and motivation to bring out the best in themselves and their students.

Nielsen, who holds both a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in educational leadership from the McKay School, has been superintendent of Utah County’s Nebo School District for the past eleven years. He previously was a sixth grade teacher, school principal, and district-level administrator. Today, he is co-chair of the UVU/MTECH K–16 Alliance, serves on the Utah Valley University board of trustees, and is chairman of the BYU–Public School Partnership. In 2020, he was named Utah Superintendent of the Year.

His lecture, titled, “You Learn Lots from a Zotz!” reminded current and future educators of the power they possess as teachers. Nielsen drew inspiration from the penny candy he would buy at the small-town pharmacy where his father used to work; one of his favorites, Zotz, is a hard candy with a fizzy, sour center. According to Nielsen, “The center of a Zotz is what makes it unique, special, even powerful.”

In addition, said Nielsen, the center of the word Zotz—the letters O and T—can help educators discover the optimism, trust, ownership, and thankfulness inside themselves, and harness these traits “in the great cause of education.” Nielsen also recommended Christian Moore’s book, The Resilience Breakthrough, to help educators discover their own power from within.

Through personal memories and life lessons he learned as a student, son, and grandson, Nielsen demonstrated his love for the field of education and reminded educators of their ability to make a difference in the lives of their students. “We choose to be teachers because we have the brilliance to know where our passions lie, the intelligence to recognize the influence of a teacher, and the genius to use our talents to make that difference.”

Nielsen concluded with a relevant quote from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

Writer: Livy Andrus

Contact: Cindy Glad