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Taking Roll

August 21, 2006

Last week I walked in the steps of many parents before me. My wife Kimberley, our youngest daughter Larissa and I left our oldest daughter, Brittany, at college to begin her freshman year. The last four months have been filled with preparations for moving, packing and planning, and lots of late night laughter coming from teenagers assembled in our basement to enjoy Brittany's final summer at home.

But nothing can truly prepare you for the quiet drive away from campus, struggling to keep focused on the road ahead, the rear view mirror acting like a magnet to eyes longing for one last look.

As a family, we are confident that Brittany will do wonderfully as a college student, learning to be on her own, but that didn't stop me from asking and re-asking the same old questions about whether she had everything she needed. As usual, she was far more prepared for the transition than I was. Instead of looking in the rear view mirror, she was facing the road ahead.

Although this will be a new experience for all of us, the changes since Kimberley and I were in college were not lost on me. Technology has significantly changed the ability to communicate. I talked to my parents about every two weeks in college; now with cell phones and email we are able to stay in touch so much easier.

Families across South Dakota will be going through similar situations over the next few weeks. For parents, while the next big step might be our children's, somehow they seem to welcome the journey more easily than we do. Whether it is moving our teenager into a residence hall on a college campus, or watching our graduates drive off to start their first job, we as parents couldn't be prouder but tend to want to delay that goodbye, while our children are ready to embrace the excitement of what lies ahead.

For many kids, the next steps will be guided by friends and classmates, but the real conductors are their teachers. Growing up in a family of educators, I know that the start of school is a busy time for teachers. Two-a-day practices, preparing lesson plans, and taking care of all the details that will make a school year memorable and influential for every student are efforts that take time and energy and often go unnoticed.

I enjoy the opportunity to visit schools across South Dakota during my travels. I am always impressed by the dedication of the people who work at the schools, from the teachers and administrators, to the people who serve lunch, and the custodians, bus drivers, and coaches. A great deal goes into planning a successful school year. I am thankful that so many dedicated individuals in South Dakota have committed to assisting in the education of our children.

School officials from across South Dakota also deliver their education message to my office during visits to Washington. I appreciate the information and ongoing dialogue they provide so we can work together to benefit South Dakota students.

I want to wish all South Dakota students, from pre-school children to college seniors, a successful and enlightening school year. To fellow parents, I encourage you to stay as involved and interested in your children's lives as possible. They are still going to rely on you for advice, encouragement, and guidance for years to come. And to the talented and caring teachers across our state: thank you for your humble dedication. Your contributions to our children's lives are invaluable.