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To the Class of 2020: Be Difference Makers

By Sen. John Thune

May 15, 2020

Click here to watch Thune’s virtual commencement address.

Congratulations, class of 2020. I can’t gloss over the fact that these are unusual times. This isn’t a normal high school graduation. And this hasn’t been a normal semester. 

I know this is a wonderful time of the year when the spring season rolls around. There should’ve been spring sports and music recitals and prom and, of course, a walk across the stage to get your diploma. 

I want to tell you that I feel your pain, and I appreciate what you guys are having to go through. But, as I’ve experienced in my life, when I’ve gone through adversity, oftentimes it strengthens my faith, gives me a greater appreciation for my family and friends, and challenges me to reexamine my priorities. Those seem like three important lessons for graduating seniors. And for those of you leaving “the nest” next year, I know your parents enjoyed this quality time with you. So my hope is that somewhere down the road, as you look back on this experience, it will be something that you have learned from and something that you have grown from.

I grew up in the small town of Murdo. I don’t know if any of you know where that is, but it’s a small town of about 500 people. My dad was a teacher, coach, athletic director, and he drove the bus at my school. My mom was the school librarian. It meant there wasn’t anywhere I could go to get away from my parents. But it also meant that growing up, I saw firsthand the dedication of our educators.

And so, I want to take a moment to thank your teachers, your school officials, and their staff for their very hard work and dedication – and especially for going above and beyond in these past few weeks to make it possible for you to continue to pursue your studies and to reach this important milestone.

As a 1979 high school graduate, just saying “class of 2020” makes me feel old. Even 40 years down the road, I still remember my high school experience. But I don’t remember the exams or papers or even my exact GPA. What I do remember is my friends, my teachers, my coaches, and the many lessons that I learned. Trust me, that’s what you’ll remember, too. 

Keep hanging in there. Stay strong. Keep doing the work. If you do, I can assure you that it will pay off in the future.

When I was growing up in Murdo, I never thought that I would be addressing a class of graduating seniors as your U.S. senator. But just remember: Sometimes doors open to you and don’t be afraid to push them open to see what’s on the other side. If an opportunity comes along, go for it. You can’t imagine where it can take you. Be difference makers.