Inspiring the next generation of learners

UMSL alumnus George Paz, BSBA 1982, chairman and chief executive officer at Express Scripts

UMSL alumnus George Paz, BSBA 1982, chairman and chief executive officer at Express Scripts, wrote the St. Louis Post-Dispatch commentary “Inspiring the next generation of learners.” (Photo by August Jennewein)

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch originally published this commentary on March 1.

By GEORGE PAZ

Later today, I’m going to make a slight departure from my normal schedule — and wardrobe — when I wear a 2-foot-high red and white striped top hat, sit down among a roomful of grade school kids and do my best Cat in the Hat impersonation.

Let me tell you, it’s a pretty big step outside the comfort zone for a guy who really enjoys reading over the latest numbers in a financial forecast.

I’m looking forward to spending time with and reading Dr. Seuss books to the students at Mullanphy Elementary School in St. Louis. Today, 48 public schools across the St. Louis area will participate in a one-day literacy event, motivating students to learn, help others and stay physically fit.

The celebration of Dr. Seuss’ 109th birthday is a program of the GO! St. Louis Read, Right & Run Marathon, which challenges students from kindergarten through eighth grade to read 26 books, right the community with 26 good deeds and run 26.2 miles over a six-month period. This program will reach more than 22,000 students from 300 schools and youth organizations.

For me, this is much more meaningful than just serving as the event’s honorary chairman.

One of the greatest challenges we face as a nation is improving public education. Teachers, school boards, state and federal governments can do only so much, no matter how great their level of dedication and good will. We also need to generate enthusiasm for learning, beginning as early as possible.

As we think about our next generation of leaders, we need to invest not only in reading, writing and citizenship, but in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Today is just one step in the journey for these students, and I’m proud to be a small part of it.

When I sit down in front of those kids, it will bring back a lot of memories for me about my own education and the opportunities it created for me.

My grandfather and father immigrated to the United States from Mexico. My father had an eighth grade education. They settled in Fairmont City, and I spent my early childhood there. Hard work was a way of life.

My father served in the military and was impressed by how the officers carried themselves. He quickly understood that education meant opportunity, so learning was constantly stressed in our house. 

My scholastic interests turned quickly to math and ultimately to finance. I focused on learning as much as I could as fast as I could so that I might have the kind of career my parents wanted for me.

There was nothing easy about it. I worked late shifts in my teenage years so that I could help support my family and go to high school. By the time I started college at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, I was considered a nontraditional student, working full time to pay for my education while attending school full time. I took time off from school when my daughters were born and then returned to earn my degree in my early 20s. As I reflect about that time and think about students today, I wonder sometimes what a traditional student looks like. 

I’m proud to give back to UMSL, where I serve on the chancellor’s council. I serve as chairman of the board of Logos School, a local school that helps teenagers overcome learning challenges. Both institutions focus on students who come from a background not so different than mine. I also serve as a trustee at Washington University.

Every day, you hear about the challenges facing our economy, our workforce and our future generations. Without an interest in learning, it’s nearly impossible to move forward. When we give our time and talents, we can make a difference in these kids’ lives. Today’s activities mark another step forward in our community’s own effort to improve education by making it fun to learn.

And that’s why, today, I’ll be the guy in the funny hat trying to do justice to the rhymes and rhythms of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”

I can’t wait to hear about all the places our kids want to go in their lives and help them to understand how education will get them to their destination.


UMSL alumnus George Paz, BSBA 1982, is chairman and chief executive officer of Express Scripts, a St. Louis-based pharmacy benefit manager. 


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