"Have the persistence and the determination to make them come true," he said.
Daugaard was keynote speaker at the 32nd Winter Commencement on of the university, held Saturday morning, Dec. 15 in the USD DakotaDome.
He reminded the graduates, shortly before they were to be presented their bachelor's, master's and doctorate degree diplomas, that they can do or be anything they choose.
"We sometimes in South Dakota underestimate ourselves," he said. "We're a state with a small population, we're rural, we're confronted with a media that portrays big as better, we tend to think that only people in New York, or Los Angeles, or Dallas, can be something, and do something important.
"We tend to think that others are the big doers of the world," Daugaard said.
The lieutenant governor reminded the graduates that the biggest challenge they will face from now on will come from within.
"I believe you create the biggest obstacle to your own success," he said, "as you dream your dreams and work toward your goals. I believe it is you that is your biggest challenge.
"The point I'm making is don't limit yourself," Daugaard said. "Dream big dreams. You can do great things if you're determined and persistent."
Daugaard was reminded of this several years ago, when his daughter, Laura, had a summer job at Custer State Park in the game lodge. President Calvin Coolidge, he said, used one of the suites in the lodge as his 'summer White House.'
"I mention Calvin Coolidge, because something he said I think is very important for you to remember," Daugaard told the graduates, "and I've got it written down on my desk, and I look at it every morning.
Coolidge stated: "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent cannot. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not, because the world is full of education derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
Daugaard, who received his bachelor's degree from USD in 1975, addressed a class of more than 470 graduates. He earned a law degree from Northwestern University and was an attorney in Illinois for a short time before returning to South Dakota.
His business career includes serving as vice president of the National Bank of South Dakota and as a director of development for the Children's Home Foundation in South Dakota.
He presently is the executive director of the Children's Home Society of South Dakota, an organization dedicated to helping children who are often the victims of abuse and neglect.
Daugaard has served three terms as a South Dakota senator, from 1996 until his election as lieutenant governor in 2002. Daugaard and his wife, Linda, reside in Pierre, and are parents to a two daughters and a son.
The DakotaDome was filled to capacity with family and friends of the graduates. He reminded those who received their USD degrees Saturday to never forget them.
"They are all here today to celebrate this day with you," he said. "In the accomplishments of life, it is hard to celebrate alone. If you want to feel this most sensibly, ask someone who is alone."
Daugaard grew up on a farm near Garretson, and attended a one-room country school.
"At Christmas-time, we would put on a little Christmas program," he said. Daugaard and the other students would memorize poems, and sing Christmas songs. All of the parents, he said, would always attend those programs.
"My parents never missed," he said. "They were always there."
Daugaard began attending school in Dell Rapids in the eighth grade, after his country school closed.
"I joined the band, and we had band concerts, and my parents would come," he said. "I would scan the crowd, and I would see them. They were always there."
His parents also never missed a chorus recital.
"My parents did not come to hear me," Daugaard said. "They couldn't hear at all. They were born deaf. They sometimes sat for an hour, or two. Could you imagine the boredom of that?
"They weren't there to hear me," he said. "They were there so that I could see them. And now, just like them, just like me, we all want desperately to be loved, and for someone to care for about us, and approve of us. The important moments of life are important because people who love us are there to celebrate them with us."
He closed his speech by once again reminding the graduates of how best to approach their future.
"Dream big," Daugaard told them, "and make those dreams come true."