Sen. John Thune admits he's faced numerous issues in during the three terms he served in the U.S. House, and during his first term, now nearly complete, in the U.S. Senate.
He can talk of the work he's done to promote renewable energy, and in turn, South Dakota agriculture, through his support of the ethanol industry. He points to his involvement in helping to keep Ellsworth Air Force Base off the Pentagon's chopping block, in turn saving thousands of jobs in western South Dakota.
But while dealing with issues that will improve the quality of life and boost economic development in South Dakota, Thune told delegates to Girls State Monday morning that he and his Senate colleagues also must make decisions that will have a lasting impact on the lives of generations of people – not just in South Dakota, but across the nation.
And, he added, the young women who've gathered on the University of South Dakota campus for a week of activities can leave a similar legacy as they continue their educations and eventually seek careers.
"I really believe that we're here for a reason," Thune said, speaking to a Girls State assembly in the Muenster University Center. "And sometimes it's a short window of time we have to really have an impact. What we all should want to do is take those abilities we've been given, and put them to their highest and best use, and try to have a positive impact on the world around you, and for future generations."
The W.O. Farber Center for Civic Leadership at The University of South Dakota is host to the weeklong 2010 American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program, which concludes June 5.
The South Dakota American Legion Auxiliary selected 455 girls from across the state to participate in the program based on scholastic achievement, leadership skills and interest in government. The annual event, now in its 64th year, is designed to teach female high school juniors about civic participation.
Thune believes all good leaders share a commitment to excellence.
"Excellence is focused on the process; it's making the most out of what you've been given," he said. "All of who are here today have certain, God-given abilities, and the question isn't whether or not you have them; the question is what are you going to do with them?
"Excellence to me," he added, "means not settling for mediocrity. People who are committed to excellence are optimistic about life. They're looking for ways to make the world around them better, and so excellence is really a mindset. It's something that I think all of us can adopt."
Leaders also commit themselves to a life of character, Thune said.
"Character has to do with the qualities that define you as a person, and it's how you'll be remembered when you are gone," he said. "Are you committed to doing what's right no matter what the consequences? Those are the qualities that will define your character.
"Sometimes, if you are going to be a person of character, it's not going to necessarily mean doing the popular thing," Thune told the delegates. "Doing the right thing is not always the popular thing. If you're a person of character, it means owning up to and taking responsibilities for your actions. I encourage you today to develop those traits that will define you as a person."
Strong leaders, he said, are also committed to a life of service.
"Sometimes people define success by how much money you make, what kind of material things you have, and how much power and fame you acquire," Thune said. "The longer I live, the more convinced I am that that's not what success is about at all. It's about not what you get out of life, but what you give back.
"People who are committed to a life a service," he said, "and improving the world around them and having an impact on others tend to be the most fulfilled people in life."
Thune told the Girls State participants that their involvement in the state's and nation's political process shouldn't be limited to simply casting votes on election day after they turn 18.
"Be involved on a greater level. Be involved by supporting people you believe in; don't be afraid to stand up to the things that you believe in," he said.
Girls State participants will receive lessons about various aspects of American government during their weeklong stay at USD, from the state and local level to the federal and executive branches. While on campus, students will be divided into cities and counties where they will have an opportunity to run for a mythical political office ranging from governor to local law enforcement positions. The USD campus newspaper, The Volante, will assist 12 Girls State journalists in preparing a daily newspaper at the Al Neuharth Media Center.
This is the ninth consecutive year that USD and the W.O. Farber Center for Civic Leadership have co-hosted the American Legion Auxiliary's Girls State program.