How Maj. Brent Taylor is still influencing lives through his 1997 high school graduation speech
Late Utah mayor honored with memorial bench and plaza at his high school alma mater in Arizona
Maj. Brent Taylor, who served as mayor of North Ogden before he was killed in Afghanistan in 2018, was memorialized by family members, old classmates and students at his high school alma mater in Arizona on Tuesday.
The Chandler High School alum, who graduated in 1997, was honored with the dedication of the Brent Taylor Memorial Bench and Plaza in a shady corner of the school grounds near a tree.
Jennie Taylor, Brent’s widow, also hosted the first ever Brent Taylor Leadership Conference, where speakers selected from the Chandler community spoke to students about what Brent called “The BT Five: The Brent Taylor Five Point System for Happiness and Health.”
“It was a really great day,” Jennie Taylor said. “We all came away uplifted.”
Maj. Brent Taylor of the Utah Army National Guard — and former mayor of North Ogden — was killed in Afghanistan on Nov. 3, 2018, during an insider attack that wounded another American soldier. Brent Taylor was part a U.S. Army unit training Afghan commandos and was serving his fourth combat deployment. He is reportedly the first sitting politician to be killed in action since the Civil War.
After his death, his family established the Brent Taylor Foundation to carry on his life of service.
The idea for a memorial bench and plaza came after the Taylor family saw another high school honor a fallen soldier in similar fashion. Some of Brent Taylor’s old classmates reached out to the Chandler High administration and set the idea in motion.
Brent Taylor also served as the school’s student body president and spoke at his graduation ceremony in 1997, where he first introduced his “BT5.” Jennie Taylor didn’t learn about her late husband’s graduation speech and his five tips for living until after he died, but immediately saw value in them.
“They are really good life tips that could apply to business, to relationships, to school, to the young and the old,” she said. “So we brought the two ideas together to have this memorial plaza, which we dedicated first, and then we had a leadership summit workshop for the students using the BT5 as the basis.”
Brent Taylor’s five tips are:
- Don’t do anything stupid.
- Work hard.
- Be a good friend.
- Believe in something.
- Stick with it to the end.
“It’s amazing how flexible those different principles are in so many different aspects of life,” Jennie Taylor said.
Students were asked to consider what advice they might give if speaking at their graduation, as well as what advice they might give themselves 25 years after graduation. Brent Taylor’s BT5 was then introduced by five presenters from the community. Three of the five were old classmates of Brent at Chandler High. One was a city council member and another was one of Brent’s college roommates.
“Everybody had a connection to the school and community and told about their own life experiences,” Jennie Taylor said. “It wasn’t like the whole conference was about Brent Taylor, it was all about how to apply these principles to real life.”
As the conference concluded, the diverse group of students were invited to write their own five tips for a happy life.
“For older people, it’s easy to get worried about the younger generation and what they are doing, how many video games they play, but it was really invigorating to see these young people really catch on,” Jennie Taylor said. “Some deep thoughts, some good interaction, and I thought our future is going to be in good hands. We’ve got some strong young people in this country and it was a great opportunity.”
More than 50 Chandler High seniors have applied for two leadership scholarships sponsored by The Brent Taylor Foundation. The young man and young woman selected to receive the scholarship will be announced in the coming weeks. The Brent Taylor Foundation also sponsors a similar scholarship at Weber High School in Utah as well.
Jennie Taylor, a former high school teacher, hopes the leadership seminar will be the first of many, at Chandler High and elsewhere, she said.
“It’s a program that can be impactful,” Jennie said. “ For me, the importance of this with Brent’s graduation speech was realizing he was who he was from a young age. His teachers, his friends, nobody knew the details of what his life would look like in 25 years, but they could tell he was going to make a difference.”
She continued: “I think that is so true. We need all of our high school kids to have that confidence. Whatever life brings you — ups or downs, money or broke — you are going to have an opportunity to make an impact. What kind of impact do you want to have? What principles do you want to live by? I feel like that’s something we can help young people think about that will help them for the rest of their lives, no matter how long or short the rest of their life gets to be.”