"Sometimes, things come to you; doors open for you," he said. "The opportunity available to you may, at first, seem to be something that you don't necessarily aspire to. But don't be afraid to walk through that door."
Thune told the young women that they were in the audience of Slagle Auditorium Monday morning because people in their home communities believed they had leadership potential.
"You look around the room here today, and you've got people from all over South Dakota, from small towns and big towns, but you really represent the future of South Dakota," Thune said. "You are our future leaders. You are the people who are going to be making the decisions that effect the generation that comes after you."
Thune told the Girl Staters to develop their leadership skills so that when opportunity comes for them down the road, they can seize it.
Many people, the senator said, believe leadership means being at the top and being in a position where other people are looking after your needs.
"That's really not what leadership is about at all," Thune said. "Leadership is about service. Leadership, fundamentally, is about being a servant, about looking around and seeing what you can do to improve the lives of those around you."
Back in the depression ridden days of the early 30s, the American Legion grew concerned over public statements to the effect that Democracy was "on the skids." How, it wondered, could America train its young people in the processes of self government as effectively as Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany seemed to be training their youth in the totalitarian forms of government. Deciding the best way to learn was by practicing it, American Legionnaires began, in 1935, gathering teenage representatives together for a few days each summer in a citizenship training program on the processes of city, county and state Government. They called it "Boys State." As the program succeeded and spread throughout the United States, the American Legion Auxiliary began a similar program for girls. Thus Girls State was authorized in 1937-38.
South Dakota Girls State was founded at Mitchell in 1947. It met regularly each year on the campus of Dakota Wesleyan University until 1985, when it was moved to the campus of South Dakota State University, Brookings. In 2002, the program was moved to The University of South Dakota.
It is under the sponsorship of South Dakota Department of the American Legion Auxiliary. From an enrollment of 117 girls in 1947, Girls State has grown to its present enrollment of over 480 girls.
Thune told the Girls State participants of the book The Purpose Driven Life, written by Rick Warren. The first sentence of the book simply states: "It's not about you."
"If we keep that perspective in mind, that it's not about me, it's about the causes we serve that are bigger than ourselves, that's the type of mindset that will allow you to become someone who is effective and someone who has a meaningful impact on the world," he said.
It's easy for us all, Thune said, to become preoccupied with ourselves, and to focus on things that will effect us individually in a positive way relative to other people.
"But leadership is really about the opposite of that," he said. "It's not about me. It's not about you. It's about the people around you."
Thune also encouraged the young women to "think big.
"Have a big, bold vision about what you can do," he said, "in terms of making a difference in the world around you. At the end of the day, when it's all said and done and you look back at your life, what's going to define you is not how many things you acquire, or how much power or fame you have, or how much money you make. It's the legacy you leave behind on the people you impact and affect along the way.
"That, fundamentally, ladies, is what leadership is all about," Thune said.