Lt. Gov. Matt Michels told graduates of the 124th spring commencement at the University of South Dakota Saturday that his desire was to inspire all of you you who are graduates, you who are here visiting and celebrating to serve others.
Michels did so not just by citing the opinions of historical figures, ranging from Abraham Lincoln to USDs esteemed W.O. Farber.
He also threw in a deeply personal story in his keynote address to graduates, a speech, given on the eve of Mothers Day, about the matriarch in his family, and how with the help of the Vermillion community, she kept Michels home life from unraveling.
Due to financial difficulties in my familys business, my father decided to leave the state in search of opportunities, he told the graduates and the capacity crowd that had gathered in the USD DakotaDome to witness Saturday mornings commencement. The plan was that my mother and the four of us left at home I was the oldest of the children would eventually join him.
A few months later, Michels said, his mother, while crying, told him and his siblings that his father had called and said he wasnt coming back.
In addition to the obvious emotional devastation, we financially cratered. We searched around and found a great amount of undiscovered debt, and we didnt have enough income, he said. There were mouths to feed, heating bills to pay. My mother was well recognized as a special ed instructor. What were we going to do?
Guess what? The community rallied around us, Michels said. So many, many people it would take hours to recall their names and their gifts.
Michels is especially grateful to Jack DeVany, a Vermillion attorney and family friend. He always listened, he always served, and always comforted us. He never charged us a dime, he said.
Michels describes his mother as a hero.
She worked hard, kept everything together, but she always admonished that if we worked hard, and took advantage of educational opportunities, we would succeed, he said, but only if you also helped others. She was of course right.
His mother, Michels said, made me who I am today.
Michels was born in Pierre, grew up in Vermillion and was elected South Dakotas 38th lieutenant governor last November. He has a long-standing history as a member in the South Dakota State Legislature representing District 18. He was also a partner in the Yankton law firm Michels & Associates, Prof. LLC, and served as general counsel of Avera Health.
Michels earned a nursing degree and bachelor of science degree in health services administration from USD. He also earned a juris doctor from the USD School of Law in 1985. Following law school, Michels served as an officer in the United States Navy, and married his wife, Karen Lindbloom, a native of Pierre. They have a son, Collin, current president of the USD Student Government Association.
He told the audience that none of the positive accomplishments in his life would have been possible if his family had not been embraced by a community, and cared for by a community. A community of compassion, a community of service, a community of inspiration.
Michels said that when societies are examined from their native, historical backgrounds, there is a common, powerful theme: Selfless service to others is expected.
He noted that Abraham Lincoln said that public service was a critical ingredient to self-governing, and even though self-governance was a grand experiment, his words resonate today. It was a theme that USDs renowned political science professor, Dr. W.O. Farber, carried forward, Michels said, when he asked, What have you done to lead? What have you done to inspire? What have you done to improve your community?
The lieutenant governor noted that Farber states, in his testament to students, I believe that dedicated public service is the noblest of professions. The keys to a happy, acceptable and productive life are participation, involvement, and above all, concern for others.
Great service creates a great society, and we are all indeed a product of such service, given by others, Michels said.
As USDs 1,290 graduates prepared to accept their diplomas in a moment that Michels described as a pinnacle in your lives, he made a special request.
I challenge you to, please, desire to inspire, he said. Desire to inspire yourselves and others in public service, by your actions in volunteering, supporting your neighborhoods, churches, schools, and economic development activities.
Michels urged students to show up. The world is run by those people who show up. And when you are at the helm of an organization or a project or a calling, be passionate and compassionate, and work others into your activities.
He reminded everyone in attendance at the mornings commencement that they are needed.
We people like you who grasp the seriousness of the challenges facing our nation, and want to be part of the solution, Michels said. The gift of public service will provide those answers. Remember, those answers arent supplied and obtained by pointing fingers at others. They are found by pointing fingers at ourselves. The solutions are not found by blaming others, but by working with each other.
Public service is a high calling that is grounded more in personal values than market values. It involves looking out for the collective interests of all rather than the narrow interests of the few, he said.
The institutions of society, Michels said, such organizations, churches, and government, cannot hug or cry or give hope and faith. They dont protect or rescue others.
Its people, he said. People like you. People serving others Always remember, you make a living by what you get, but a life by what you give.