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Lily Eskelsen García receives U of U 2019 Distinguished Alumna award

Alumna, B.S. Elementary Education & M.Ed. Educational Studies


Lily Eskeleson GarcÍa is president of the country’s largest professional union, the National Education Association. She currently serves as a board member for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, as an executive committee member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and as regional vice president of Education International. She was appointed commissioner on the White House Commission for Education Excellence for Hispanics under President Obama. Eskelsen García had only been teaching for nine years when she was named Utah Teacher of the Year in 1989. She then was elected president of her state education association, won her party’s nomination for U.S. Congress, and served as president of the Utah State Retirement System. Eskelsen García and her husband, Alberto García, are author/illustrator of the bilingual book, Rabble Rousers: Fearless Fighters for Social Justice, which they published to raise funds to help undocumented Dreamers.

She began her career as a school cafeteria lunch worker. After becoming a kindergarten aide, she was encouraged to become a teacher herself. So she worked her way through the University of Utah on scholarships, student loans, and as a starving folk singer, graduating magna cum laude in elementary education and later earning a master's degree in instructional technology.

Lily has also served as president of the Utah State Retirement System, president of the Children at Risk Foundation, and as a member of the White House Strategy Session on Improving Hispanic Education.

She built alliances with parents, business and civil rights organizations and with advocates for the disabled and poor. In 1998 she ran for U.S. Congress and became her party's first Latino nominee in Utah, raising close to $1 million and taking 45 percent of the vote against the incumbent. 

Her advice to parents has been published in Time, Working Mother, and Woman's World, and she's been featured on Fox News' “Hannity & Colmes” and CNN's “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”  Her popularity as a speaker was highlighted by Education World in their “Best Conference Speakers” edition, and because of her advocacy of education as the foundation of a sound economy, she was named a finalist by Hispanic Business Magazine for 2009 Woman of the Year.

For 20 years, Lily worked with students from kindergarten to sixth grade in the middle-class suburbs of Salt Lake and in its one-room shelter school. She has taught children labeled gifted and children labeled homeless. She believes that no matter how students arrive, no matter their learning conditions, and no matter what tests or labels or punishments they face, educators have a sacred duty to care for the whole child.  And she believes that professionalism carries a responsibility to take action, individually and collectively, to fight to fulfill the promise of public education – preparing every child to succeed.

Last Updated: 3/15/21