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Opinion: Utah is the Beehive State — our flag should represent it

The symbol of the beehive, representing community values and pioneer perseverance, has long been the face of our state. The beehive on our state flag deserves to stay

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The American flag and the Utah flag in the Gold Room of the Utah Capitol.

The American flag and the Utah flag are pictured inside the Gold Room at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

As the former governor of Utah and the former president of the World Trade Center Utah, we had the opportunity for several years to promote Utah around the world as a place of opportunity and prosperity. We also had the privilege of welcoming leaders from around the world to Utah to learn what made this state the best economy in a country with the largest economy in the world.

We met kings, queens, princes, presidents and prime ministers, and we loved telling them about Utah’s past, present and future. Most of these world leaders knew very little about our state, its pioneer settlers, its original Native American inhabitants, the subsequent generations of Utahns, and the individuals who continue to move here for the opportunity and upward mobility that is found in abundance.

These world leaders were always interested to learn about the symbol of the beehive on the state flag and why Utah is known as the Beehive State. We shared with them how the early pioneers brought beehives on their journey from the East. As they entered the valleys on the western edge of the Rocky Mountains, what they found must have been startling in its contrast from where they had come. Instead of the lush banks of the Mississippi River or the green hills of the British Isles, their new home was a high mountain desert next to an alkaline inland sea.

Those pioneers had to learn quickly what the Native Americans had known long before … that survival was going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of hard working together. This combination of rugged-individualism coupled with a strong sense of community-building is what makes Utah special. And it is what makes the symbol of the beehive so appropriate for our state. Industry and community, in unison and on full display.

The beehive represents more than Utah’s history and heritage. It represents our present and our future. Growth and change have been Utah’s constant companions since its founding.  The “beehive mentality” has allowed us to maximize the upside of growth while minimizing the downside. Why? Because, like a beehive, Utah welcomes those who want to work hard and work together.  

In this context, we observe the discussions around the question of changing the state flag with its prominent beehive symbol. We seek to understand various points from all sides. Those advocating for maintaining the current flag and its historical ties to statehood in 1896, and those advocating for something less “cluttered.”

To this discussion, we add our voice and ask: Why is the state considering abandoning the symbol that Utah is known for and that sets it apart for the values and virtues that have established Utah as a model for opportunity and prosperity?

What could be more honoring of our past, more descriptive of our present, more aspirational for our future, and more reflective of hard-working individualism coupled with care and concern for an inclusive community than the beehive?

The beehive is a symbol that has served us well. The beehive is a symbol that promotes the principles of industry, inclusivity, teamwork, opportunity and prosperity. The beehive is a symbol of a community where everyone has a role and a responsibility to be a contributor to our collective success. 

Utah is the Beehive State, and the beehive is a symbol worth saving.

Gary Herbert is former governor of Utah (2009-2021). Derek Miller is the former president of the World Trade Center Utah and current president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.