Brokaw: 'You can get there from here' A portion of the estimated 1,000 graduates of The University of South Dakota wait in line before heading up the ramp to receive their diplomas from USD President James Abbott May 8 in the DakotaDome. Tom Prinsen read the names of the graduates as they came on stage. by M. Jill Sundstrom University of South Dakota graduates have work to do as they embark on their new journey � life after college. But Meredith Auld Brokaw reminded them not to be afraid.
Speaking to an estimated 1,000 graduates and an audience of about 7,000 more May 8 in the DakotaDome, Brokaw told the students they are ready for the future, despite the challenges that lie ahead.
�This is a moment that for you is at once exciting and a little daunting,� she said. �You�re ready to walk on your own into the exciting new world of a new millennium, a world that is at once so much smaller and so much more complex.
�Fear not,� she continued. �You�re well educated and reared well. You have come of age in a place where every day you have seen the rewards of hard work and personal responsibility.�
Brokaw, a 1962 USD graduate, New York businesswoman and wife of Tom Brokaw, anchorman of NBC Nightly News, received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree during the commencement ceremony. She reminded the graduating students that personal responsibility should be the rule, not the exception.
�Do not underestimate those qualities as you take your place in the work place, the community of your choice and your new social environments,� she said. �In this age of self indulgence, those qualities that you carry from here will make you distinctive and, by extension, admired.�
A native of Yankton, Brokaw told the graduates that their life at USD � on the prairie, she called it � will serve them well in the future, just as it has served her.
�My life has had many phases, including teaching high school English, opening and running a business in New York City, writing books for parents of young children and becoming a mother,� Brokaw said. �Through all these phases I have been nurtured by what I learned here at an early age, the love and values of my family and faith and schools.
�I am deeply rooted here, even though I have now lived in New York longer than I lived in South Dakota,� she added. �As I tell my New York friends, I have an East Coast address and a Great Plains sensibility. It�s a wonderful combination. And I am not alone.�
As she continued, Brokaw noted that many South Dakotans hold positions of stature throughout the world.
�Over the years I have encountered South Dakotans as Wall Street whizzes, celebrated artists, leading academic experts on Russia, the current chancellor at Berkeley,� she said.
�Yesterday, when I talked to (husband) Tom who has been in Albania this week, he reported meeting three South Dakotans that day: a squadron commander flying a Black Hawk helicopter, a surgeon aboard one of the big Navy ships and the base�s public affairs officer. South Dakotans are everywhere.�
Opportunities abound for the USD graduates, Brokaw said.
�You can get here from here, however you define there,� she said. �And there will be so many more choices for you than for all the classes that preceded you. You are the last class of the millennium and therefore the first class to shape a whole new century. We�re just now beginning to have an appreciation of the astonishing new tools of information and communication that will help you shape this new world.�
But Brokaw cautioned the students not to rush headlong into �this new cosmos of gee whiz technology and possibility� without remembering to take care of Mother Earth, which is also part of their heritage.
Summarizing the journey of Lewis and Clark through the region, Brokaw told of the wonders the explorers saw � a rich sea of prairie grass, vast herds of bison, antelope, prairie dogs, wolves, new varieties of plants and shrubs.
�They met the Yankton Sioux, the Oglala and farther north, the Mandan, stewards of the land in the early 19th century,� Brokaw said. ��They came away with a keen appreciation of their resourcefulness, if not a full understanding of their rightful place.�
But the land and the Missouri River, which provided a passageway for the explorers, has changed, Brokaw said.
�A good deal has been lost, but a great deal has been gained as well,� she said. �The precious balance of life on the prairie is always in play.
�As we have learned here not to let the heavy footprint of man crush what we hold dear � what, in fact, gives us life � we as citizens of a much smaller and more complex world must be vigilant about the assault on Mother Earth in other places.�
Brokaw cited several examples of how many of the richest places on earth are in grave danger of disappearing forever.
�Losing these ecosystems � and the plant and animal life they harbor � could threaten our very existence, for we depend on them for foods, medicines, the air we breathe, the water we drink and countless products,� Brokaw said. �What happens there will affect all future generations in South Dakota and everywhere.
�We�re all in this together,� she continued. �It will help no one if we only aspire to have fancy cars, palatial homes, sophisticated toys, but we cannot safely breathe the air or drink the water. If the landscape is barren of nature�s wonders, what is the quality of life?�
Brokaw urged the students to put a special task on their priority list � taking care of Mother Earth.
Brokaw also quoted a Chicago columnist who penned several of life�s do�s and don�ts:
? Don�t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.
? Don�t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you�re ahead, sometimes you�re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it�s only with yourself.
? Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.
? Remember the sunscreen.
Brokaw added that the graduates must not give up � on themselves or each other.
�Wherever you live, wherever you go, keep your eyes on the far horizon, just as you always did here, watching for approaching storms or the promise of a clear day,� she said. �When you feel a cold wind, remember the warmth of your South Dakota family. When you have that one perfect day, when all is well in your life and your career, when the sun is bright overhead, relish the moment � and don�t forget your sunscreen.�