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Sandy Journal

Longtime Alta High teacher honored by legislature for dedication to public service

Mar 01, 2024 02:28PM ● By Julie Slama

Joined by his family, Alta High’s Rique Ochoa (right) was honored with a standing ovation by the Utah House of Representatives. (Melissa Lister/Alta High)

Rique Ochoa has seen a bit of history in his time. 

He saw 1968 presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy the day before he was shot. He lived in the neighborhood of the Zoot Suit Riots and his school had Cold War rations on hand for emergencies. He’s met and invited Pulitzer Prize winners to speak to students and he’s taken students to see the presidential inaugurations of Bush, Obama and Trump. He’s made the call for some outstanding athletes and listened to students debate during his 45-year tenure at Alta High. 

He retired this past summer, but his impact was far-reaching.

As part of his instruction, he encouraged students to volunteer to get involved in public service. That has gotten him recognized. 

First, after several students volunteered for Suzanne Harrison’s campaigns, she met Ochoa and was so impressed, Harrison and her husband established an annual $1,000 student scholarship in Ochoa’s name at the high school.

Recently, former Advanced Placement student Gabby Saunders, who was involved in the Ochoa’s pilot of the Rutgers University women’s leadership program at Alta High, presented her former teacher a letter at his retirement inviting him to the Utah House of Representatives.

“She learned she had a voice and should use it. So back in 2015, the Utah legislature was getting set to cut funding for domestic violence shelters and that was important to her. She started working the system, met with Sen. (Wayne) Niederhauser, who was president of the senate at the time, and worked with him and other members in the legislature. Not only did they not cut the funding, they increased it. As a result, she became more active.”

Fast forward and this past spring, Saunders was working on a project with Rep. Anthony Loubet.

“He was astounded at how good she was and wanted to know how she got started. She told him, ‘My government teacher Mr. Ochoa encouraged us.’ He opened up the idea of honoring my career,” Ochoa said.

On Jan. 29, Ochoa and his family stood in front of the Utah House of Representatives as a citation about his dedication to students was being read. 

Ochoa received a standing ovation.

“I have to admit I was emotional as they read the citation,” he said, adding that he had tears. “It was a culmination of everything I’ve done it for so long. I’ve loved teaching, loved all of it. I’ve always thought teaching high school was the place to be. You can provide direction, guidance, encouragement. I look back on and realize how big a difference it was to be in the classroom. Teaching is a tough job. When someone takes note and appreciates that you’re putting in the effort, that’s what makes it special. This struck me more than at any other time. It’s a great acknowledgement and then to get a standing ovation at the end, it was incredible.” λ