There was a small cheer of encouragement from the crowd, with some of USD grads-to-be and their friends and family members hoping that Thune would follow through with his idea.
"I want you to know, I did poll my staff, and I asked them if they could remember their college commencement speaker and what that person said," he said. "We only had one who remembered his commencement speaker. In the words of Garry Trudeau, 'Commencement speakers were invented largely in the belief that the outgoing college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.'
"I assure you I won't be offended if you don't remember if I were here today, or what I said," Thune told the commencement audience, "but I do want to congratulate you on this day of celebration."
He noted that Saturday was a time of great joy for the graduates and their family and friends. It was also, however, a time of anxiety mixed with finality and revelry. "Today is your day," Thune said. "You should revel in it. If you are a parent, as that son or daughter moves on with his or her life, you take great pride in knowing that you have helped them take one giant step forward in pursuit of their life's goals."
With Saturday's commencement, the senator said, came a recognition that a group of young women and men no longer were going to be as dependent on their parents.
"With that comes a sense of sadness at how fast our kids grow up and how little time we really have with them," Thune said. "It serves as a reminder to all of us who become preoccupied with our own pursuits to make the most of every season of life with our children."
Thune says he has his own definition of success – one that came to him personally through life experiences ranging from flipping burgers as a youth in his hometown of Murdo to his days as a student at USD, and everything since.
Thune, who received his M.B.A. from USD in 1984, spoke to a graduating class of 1,014 students. A native of Murdo, he resides in Sioux Falls with his wife, Kimberly, and their two daughters.
A three-term member of the House of Representatives from 1996 through 2002, Thune won his first term in the United States Senate when he unseated incumbent Tom Daschle in 2004.
He currently serves on the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee; the Armed Services Committee; the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and the Small Business Committee.
Philanthropist T. Denny Sanford was honored with a Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree at the commencement ceremony. Sanford, a St. Paul, MN native, co-founded First PREMIER Capital in Minneapolis, MN, after purchasing First PREMIER Bank and developing the credit card company PREMIER Bankcard.
After forming the Sanford Foundation for charitable giving, Sanford has donated millions of dollars to several organizations, including The University of South Dakota's Sanford School of Medicine and for construction of the Sanford Children's Hospital in Sioux Falls.
In addition to the recognition of Sanford, The University of South Dakota also acknowledged distinguished faculty members from the 2006-07 academic year, including recipients of the Belbas-Larson Awards for Excellence in Teaching; the Richard and Sharon Cutler Awards in Liberal Arts; the John Wesley Jackson Memorial Award presented to the outstanding professor of law; and the College of Fine Arts Distinguished Professor Award.
"You are going to hear a lot in the years ahead about success," he said. "Some people define it by how much money you make. Some people define it by how many possessions you have or how much power or fame you acquire."
Thune said he believes true success comes of three commitments.
"The first is a commitment to excellence in whatever you do," he said. "Excellence is taking your God-given abilities and putting them to their highest and best use. It's putting your heart into whatever you do."
The second commitment to success, he said, is a commitment to character.
"You've perhaps heard character described as what you do when no one else is looking," Thune said. "Character is what defines you as a person, and how you will be remembered when you are gone.
"Being a person of character may mean going it alone," he added. "You need to know that doing the right thing may not always be the popular thing. But one way to certain failure is to try to please everyone, and to be controlled by the opinions of others."
The last part of Thune's three-part definition of success is a commitment to serving causes that are greater than one's self.
"When you commit yourself to the service of God and others, you serve a higher purpose," he said. "The longer I live, the more convinced I am that success in life is not defined by what you get out of it, but by what you give back.
"Life has meaning and joy when it has purpose," Thune said. "Life without purpose is motion without meaning."