By David Lias
Saturday’s speaker at the 126th spring commencement of the University of South Dakota told graduates he would like them to remember three important things from his speech.
“Important thing number one: You are not special,” said Michael M. Vekich shortly before 1,400 candidates for graduation received their diplomas during the morning’s ceremony in the DakotaDome.
“You are one of the 1,400 or so students in this graduating class … For the past 125 years, hard-working, talented, disciplined, creative and passionate students have been graduating from this college,” he said. “But you are unique. You are the only person who ever lived that has your exact genetic makeup. You’re the only person who has your history. Your life, up to this point, has been lived by no one else. You have one-of-a-kind gifts, and you have learned things and acquired skills and talents that are yours alone.”
Vekich is CPA, CEO of Vekich Chartered of Minneapolis, MN, and is chair of HF Financial Corp and Home Federal Bank – South Dakota’s largest publicly-traded savings bank. He is currently a member of the Board of Trustees, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.
Previously, he was owner and CEO of Vekich Arkema & Company, a public accounting firm servicing clients in nine foreign countries. In 2008, Vekich was appointed chair of the Governor’s 21st Century Tax Reform Commission by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. He also served as acting director of the Minnesota State Lottery and as vice chair of the Minnesota Ballpark Authority Commission, which was responsible for the financing and construction of Target Field in downtown Minneapolis.
In 2002, Vekich was a candidate for the nomination for governor of Minnesota. He received a B.A. in accounting and business administration from the University of Minnesota in 1970.
“You have an analytical way of thinking that is 100 percent unique to you. You have a singular way of solving problems and creating options, and so does everyone else in this room,” Vekich told the graduates. “That is why I say, ‘you are not special.’ But you are vitally important. You have a mixture of talents and skills, strengths and abilities that are desperately needed in this world. You have something to give, or discover, or write, or create that only you can contribute.
“Important thing number two: You have what it takes to succeed,” he said. “You’ve just succeeded in finishing college and you are about to start succeeding in a bunch of other things.”
He told the graduates that they are better educated, richer, more widely traveled and smarter than any generation of this world.
“You have what it takes to succeed. So what does success mean to you? How would you define it?” Vekich said.
He noted that the late Steve Jobs is noted as a successful genius who changed the way the people throughout the world live their lives.
“But what about Steve Jobs’ famous temper tantrums? His habit of verbally attacking people who served him at coffee bars? Publicly firing employees before an audience of their peers? Is this the part that you want your success to look like?” Vekich asked.
“I would like to suggest that success, no matter how you define it, has to be bigger than simply achieving your goal. It must include others, which brings me to important thing number three: Significance is better than success,” he said. “If success is what you do to achieve your goals, significance is what you do to help others achieve their goals.”
Significance, he said, lasts forever.
“When you positively change the life of another human being, that person in turn impacts the life of another, who influences another, and on it goes,” Vekich said. “Significance satisfies your soul. The thirst for success is never quenched. It grows stronger and stronger with each new achievement. But significance satisfies the deepest longing of the human soul.
“On your graduation day, I’d like to invite you, right from the beginning in your quest for success to pursue significance,” he told the graduates.