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U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today spoke on the Senate floor about growing up in South Dakota and the values that make it the greatest place in America live, work, and raise a family.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, before I begin, I want to express my sorrow at the terrible shooting in Texas on Tuesday that claimed the lives of two teachers and 19 schoolchildren.
“Like a lot of Americans, I cannot imagine the anguish these children’s parents are facing right now, as they grieve for sons and daughters whom they will never again drive to school, or welcome home at the end of the day.
“I pray that the Lord will be with them in their suffering, and that they will receive the comfort and strength that they need.
“My prayers are with the entire Uvalde community – the families of those killed, the injured, the teachers and students who suffered such terror, the medical and law enforcement personnel who responded, and all those reeling from this terrible attack.
“Mr. President, this past weekend I headed to Murdo, South Dakota – the small town of around 500 people where I grew up.
“Needless to say, any trip to Murdo brings back a lot of memories.
“First and foremost those memories are of my parents, Pat and Harold Thune, and of growing up with my three brothers and sister.
“We were lucky kids to have my parents.
“My mom was a wonderful, loving, eternally optimistic mother, who spent most of my growing up years as our high school librarian.
“She was responsible for making sure we Thune kids got some culture – whether we wanted it or not.
“She was the one who made sure we got an introduction to music and learned how to play the piano.
“With her encouragement, I even joined the swing choir – although I’ll spare you, Mr. President, from any recitals.
“In the summers, she’d make us come inside for an hour every day to read.
“I didn’t always want to come inside on those beautiful summer days.
“At the time, I would have much preferred to keep shooting hoops with the basket my dad had attached to a pole in our backyard.
“But today I am grateful for every minute she made us spend with books.
“My dad – he was our hero, a Division I basketball star and World War II combat pilot.
“He was a teacher at my high school. And a coach. And the athletic director. Oh, and the bus driver.
“So between him and my mom as the librarian, we Thune kids were practically never away from our parents’ watchful eyes.
“But I am so grateful to have had my dad’s coaching – in sports and in life.
“My dad taught us players to play as a team.
“He didn’t like ball hogs or people who were in it for personal glory.
“He believed your job as a member of a team was to make the people around you better.
“If somebody else was in a better position to take the shot, you always made the extra pass.
“You didn’t try to pad your own statistics.
“You played for the good of the team.
“It’s an attitude I’ve tried to carry with me throughout my life.
“My parents gave us Thune kids a strong set of values – and an inheritance of faith.
“In good times and bad, faith was their anchor, and the Holy Scriptures their roadmap.
“And I am grateful that they taught us Who to turn to in times of trouble.
“Mr. President, being in Murdo reminded me of my parents, as it always does.
“It also made me reflect on just how lucky I was to grow up in a small town – and small-town South Dakota in particular.
“It’s true that growing up in a small town meant that my parents had heard all about any of the Thune kids’ misdemeanors before we even made it home.
“But even with that little drawback, small-town life was wonderful.
“In Murdo, you know everyone, and everyone knows you.
“And that gave us a sense of community and belonging that we carry to this day.
“Growing up in Murdo also taught us just how much we are all connected.
“South Dakotans are independent people, but we also rely on our neighbors when the going gets tough.
“And the going can get tough.
“But in Murdo, we knew that if a roof collapsed under the weight of snow, or a windstorm came through and wiped out a barn, or we lost a friend or family member, the whole community would rally around to help.
“Small-town life has a beautiful simplicity.
“On summer nights, my dad would take us to get ice cream cones and then we’d drive down to the White River.
“We’d roll the windows down to feel the breeze and watch the sun drop below the horizon.
“No staring at iPhones or checking likes on social media.
“Those were idyllic evenings.
“And moments like those kept us connected to what really mattered – our family, our community, the land.
“Mr. President, the values I saw reflected growing up in Murdo are reflected in towns all across our state.
“In Murdo I learned the character of South Dakotans – the work ethic, the commitment to freedom coupled with a belief in personal responsibility, the sense of responsibility to the broader community.
“Agriculture, of course, is the lifeblood of South Dakota.
“But it is a hard way of life.
“It’s backbreaking work in all weathers – always with the risk that all your work can be wiped out in moments by a storm.
“And anyone who grows up on a farm or ranch knows that everybody has to pull their weight, or the farm or ranch just won’t survive.
“And I think that grounding in agriculture has helped give South Dakotans their reputation for having a strong work ethic and a commitment to getting the job done.
“And I’m not kidding about the reputation.
“As a senator, I’ve traveled to a number of places around the world, and I regularly meet people – often military members – who talk about the work ethic of the South Dakotans they know.
“I’m pretty sure it’s that work ethic and sense of personal responsibility that is responsible for the fact that South Dakota has always punched above its weight when it comes to military service – as well as the patriotism that runs strongly through the South Dakota character.
“South Dakotans cherish their freedoms – and they also believe that with freedom comes responsibility.
“And they have a deep appreciation for the Founders’ vision that has allowed us to enjoy such freedom – and for the sacrifices that have been required to secure it.
“And with that comes an expectation that each generation has to do its part to pay freedom’s price and protect all that we have been given.
“The South Dakota values I learned growing up helped shape my political philosophy: my belief that government should be limited, and that it is best when it’s closest to the people – and that if a matter can be handled at the state or local level, it should be.
“That the legacy of the past is something to be cherished and preserved – while leaving room for change and adaptation when needed.
“That freedom is a sacred gift, and one that must be defended – and that with freedom comes responsibility.
“And, finally, that while government is necessary, government is not where we should look for salvation.
“Mr. President, the legacy of growing up in South Dakota is a precious one.
“We didn’t have much money, but we were very rich in the things that mattered.
“I am deeply grateful for those years in Murdo – for the teachers and coaches and others in the community who invested in me and for everyone who continues to make it feel like home – and for the privilege of living in the Mount Rushmore State.
“And it is my very great honor to represent the people of South Dakota in the United States Senate.
“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”