Johanns at UNK
Last week, I had the honor of addressing the graduating class at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. It is invigorating to feel the energy and see the anticipation in the eyes of young people as they are handed a piece of paper that serves as an invitation to open a new and exciting chapter in their lives.
Across the state this time of year, many high school and college students are moving the tassel on their mortarboards, and I hope they remember a few simple truths.
As I mentioned to the graduates at UNK, one thing I’ve learned is that life doesn’t always take you where you expect to go. I certainly didn’t expect to dedicate more than 30 years of my life to public service, but experience has taught me that the destination isn’t always as important — or as rewarding — as the journey.
It’s easy to focus so intensely on goals defined by material accomplishments that we sometimes overlook more meaningful aspects of life that we experience along the way. That’s why I challenged UNK’s graduating class to follow their passions and live their lives with meaning. I truly believe this will unlock a deeper sense of success, and it may even take them places they never thought possible.
Meaningful success isn’t measured by the size of our bank accounts or number of trophies on the mantel, but rather by our generosity and our commitment to others.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being materially successful, and we all want to do well for ourselves. But as I told the graduates, if you don’t also focus on doing “good”, then doing “well” will never be enough. The satisfaction we get from our involvement in our communities and commitment to our passions cannot be matched by material rewards.
We can all think of someone who had a significant impact on our lives. Maybe it was a teacher who challenged us to excel in the classroom or a friend who lifted us through a difficult time. They will live forever in our hearts. That is the true measure of success: whether we have made a difference in the lives of others.
There is no box to check for this. It’s an ongoing process throughout the journey of life.
In January, I’ll embark on my own new adventure when my term ends as senator. I’m not certain where the road will take me next, but one thing I do know is that the most rewarding part of my journey thus far has been the opportunity to serve and represent people whom I greatly respect.
My most memorable moments are those when Nebraskans have told me I’ve made a difference in their lives in some small way. So I hope to continue a meaningful journey, just as I hope our graduates set out to make their journeys meaningful.
I offer my sincere congratulations to all those who have earned a diploma this year. You’ve accomplished much, and are about to face new challenges and opportunities. How you handle them will define you. Remember where you came from, how you got here, and who played a role along the way.
Whether you set out to be one person who changes the world, or you become the world to one person, always live your life with meaning.
And don’t forget to enjoy the ride.
Former Nebraska Governor and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns now represents Nebraska in the U.S. Senate.