Andrew Van Osdol and Justin Bousema stood out from more than 1,000 graduates Saturday with their fire helmet shield and ambulance patch on their mortarboards. Both men served three years with the Vermillion-Clay County emergency medical services (EMS) squad. They also served a year with the Vermillion fire department.
Van Osdol, a Rapid City native, had worked with Black Hills firefighting for the U.S. Forest Service before attending USD. When he moved to Vermillion, working with the EMS and fire departments seemed a natural fit, he said.
"When we had 12-hour (EMS) shifts, I studied," he said. "I didn't live too far away, so I could be right there (on a call)."
Bousema, a Rock Valley, IA, native, had worked with EMS crews while attending Northwestern College in Orange City, IA. He joined the Vermillion-Clay County crew when he transferred to USD.
When working one of three 12-hours shifts each week, Bousema said he planned for his classes. "We have the ?vibrate' function on our pager. We also sit by the door, so we can leave quickly."
Van Osdol found other EMS workers willing to cover his shift while he took tests. He also found a great deal of support from his teachers. "They were real good about it if our pagers went off."
Bousema said he likewise found backing both on and off campus for his emergency work.
"We get a lot of community support," he said. "We also have faculty (as first responders), like Tom Sorensen of the Law School with the fire department and Beth Boyd of the psychology department with EMS, so they understand and work with you."
While graduating Saturday, the two men don't intend to end work as first responders.
Van Osdol will attend the USD School of Medicine. "The EMS work dovetails well with it. I plan to stay with both the EMS and fire department here in Vermillion."
Bousema will attend North American Baptist Seminary in Sioux Falls. His wife, Bethany, graduated Saturday and will teach seventh grade English at Sheldon, IA.
"I would like to stay involved, whatever community we live in," Bousema said. "After I graduate from seminary, I am interested in a hospital chaplaincy, so my EMS training would work in well."
Despite the demands, Bousema recommends first-responder work for any college student.
"It's good for a lot of the fields they want to enter, especially nursing or medicine," he said. "In general, it gets young people involved. We give back to the community."
The first responders' graduation was witnessed by three colleagues working the event � fellow USD students and EMS members Anthoney Klunder of Rapid City, Dave Meyer of Chicago and Shawn Eoung of Sioux Falls.
While USD has completed finals week, one test awaits Klunder, Bousema and Van Osdol. On Wednesday, they take a structural firefighting test.
Klunder, like Van Osdol a Rapid City native and forest firefighter, said USD students take seriously their first-responder work.
"It shows our dedication to each of the departments. It shows our pride," Klunder said. "We are pretty privileged and honored to be in this (emergency) service."
The USD students were also called to service by keynote speaker Greg Mortenson, a 1983 USD graduate and Montana humanitarian. Mortenson serves as founder and executive director of the non-profit Central Asia Institute.
Mortenson's organization promotes education for underprivileged children to combat poverty and terrorism. He has set up more than 55 schools serving more than 20,000 children � primarily in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Few Americans can be found in the region, considered the front line of terrorism.
Mortenson grew up on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. He served as a medic in the U.S. Army during the Cold War, receiving the Army Commendation Medal.
He co-authored his biography, Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Quest to Change the World, One School at a Time. The title refers to the Afghan way of doing business: the first cup of tea, you're a stranger; the second cup, a guest; and the third cup, you become family. The process takes years.
In the same way, the United States must show extreme patience in dealing with central Asia, Mortenson said.
"We try too hard as a nation to plug in democracy in other nations," he said. "You can't just plug it in � you have to build democracy. It starts with education."
Today, 154 million children worldwide are deprived an education, Mortenson said. "They don't have (education) for various reasons, including gender and racial discrimination and religious extremism," he said.
The USD graduates need to cherish their degree, Mortenson said.
"Everywhere, there is a desire for education. Remember and embrace your education," he said. "When you take off your (mortarboard), you will forget about your education. But a lot of what you have is in your heart."
After the keynote address, USD President Jim Abbott presented Mortenson with the Alumni Achievement Award.
In 1993, Mortenson traveled to Pakistan and fell short of reaching the peak of K2, the world's second highest mountain. He attempted the climb in memory of his sister, who had severe epilepsy and died in 1992. She passed away the night before fulfilling her wish to see the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, IA.
Mortenson's climb nearly claimed his life. While nursed back to health by Pakistani villagers, he noticed their lack of a school. In gratitude for their help, Mortenson promised to return and build a school. His early donors included NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw, a Yankton native and USD graduate.
When Mortenson started building schools in 1995, he focused on girls, who faced limited opportunities. In 1996, the Taliban gained power in Afghanistan, forbidding girls from attending school.
Mortenson was kidnapped by Afghan warlords for eight days. In another instance, he hid in the back of a truck to escape gunfire. Despite such threats, Mortenson pushes forward to build more schools.
USA Today founder Al Neuharth, also a USD graduate, said Mortenson "doesn't just climb mountains, he moves them," Abbott said.