I was 14 years old in 1980 when John Anderson, an Illinois Congressman and independent candidate for president, visited my middle school. Bright-eyed and a bit naive, it was the first time I’d ever seen a politician — those men in suits on television — in real life.
He spoke to our assembly that day about the corrupting influence of money in politics and encouraged each of us in the room to be engaged citizens — imploring that we become participants rather than observers.
It was an experience that changed my life.
I watched the presidential election coverage for the first time that year, and though Ronald Reagan won in a landslide, it was John Anderson’s message that ignited my interest in civic service and responsibility to community. And now, 39 years and multiple careers later, it’s my turn to pay it forward as a member of the United States Congress.
So to you, graduates of the class of 2019, I extend my heartfelt congratulations and issue a few challenges.
Graduation season is a time to celebrate and to reflect on all you have accomplished. Bask in the glow of achievement and be proud of your hard-earned diploma.
And as you begin the next chapter of your journey, be it college or vocational school, work or travel, remember the lessons of perseverance. Success is not something to be found, rather to be achieved over time.
And the road to success is rarely smooth or linear. Lean into your failures, learn from your mistakes, and apply the lessons from both.
Express gratitude to the people who supported you during your high school years; your parents and loved ones, your teachers, your coaches, your friends — and yourself.
When you accept your high school diploma, you’re receiving a gift of opportunity. Recognize that the responsibilities of that gift include supporting those who were never afforded such opportunities.
Reach higher than the generation that preceded you, and inspire your own successors.
Set down your mobile devices, shut off your TV screens, and invest in human connections. A more civil and enlightened society begins with individual conversations — particularly with people with whom you may disagree. Seek out those conversations, as the solutions to our nation’s problems can be found in our very own neighborhoods.
Be a voter. Millions who came before you sacrificed their lives so that we may live and vote freely in the United States. Honor their sacrifices by fulfilling the most important responsibility of being an American.
Finally, consider running for office someday — for city council, school board, mayor, state legislature, governor, Congress or president. You will meet amazing people, hear unimaginable stories, help improve lives, and share your talents with our community.
Thirty-five years after I heard John Anderson’s remarks, I now have the honor of speaking regularly with students in every corner of our community. From Champlin to Chanhassen, and from Bloomington to Brooklyn Park, the conversations I have had with you make me as hopeful and optimistic about the future as I’ve ever been.
We live in a remarkable country, in extraordinary times, and the best is yet to come.
So here’s to you, class of 2019! No matter where your journeys take you, we’ll be cheering you on and celebrating your contributions to our collective future.
U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips is a Democrat who represents Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District.