Go to the U of M home page.

2013 Commencement Address by Governor Mark Dayton

Mark Dayton

Governor Mark Dayton delivers the Commencement Address

Regent Devine, Dean Wippman, Provost Hanson, members of the faculty, distinguished guests, graduating students:

One hundred twenty five years ago, in 1888, the University of Minnesota established this law school—dedicated to the principles, which guide it still today:

  1. To the study of law and legal affairs; and
  2. To the training of those women and men, who would commit their lives to the defense and purveyance of justice.

An enterprise, which began with a class of just 67 students, a small faculty, and only a handful of books, is now widely recognized as one of the finest law schools in the nation. The Law School's faculty and administration, the entire university, and the people of Minnesota can take great pride in that standing. You students, soon to be alumni, deserve to be proud as well.

First of all, you got in here, which was no small feat. Last year, the ratio of applicants to acceptances was 16:1. The college grade point average of those admitted was 3.8.

Furthermore, graduates of the University of Minnesota Law School do extremely well after leaving here. The average bar exam passage rate over the past five years was 96.91%, one of highest in the country. Your class's 100% passage rate will undoubtedly boost that number even higher. Almost 98% of U of M Law School graduates in 2011 had a job one year after graduation, and the starting salary for those employed in the private sector was $110,000.

Upon receiving your diploma, you will join a pantheon of very distinguished graduates, many of whom have achieved great prominence in their careers. Many of them never made $110,000 a year, but they made a difference.

Twelve graduates of this Law School served as governors—nine of Minnesota, one of North Dakota, South Dakota, and New Hamshire. Twenty-seven served in the United States Congress, in either the House, the Senate, or both. Twenty-five of them represented Minnesota, one South Dakota, and one Illinois. Four Chief Justices of the Minnesota Supreme Court graduated from your Law School, and one Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court. Additionally, there have been 19 other associate justices of the Minnesota Supreme Court and two in North Dakota. Among your graduates are former U.S. Ambassadors to Norway, Zimbabwe, Canada, Japan and Nepal, and the current U.S. Ambassador to Morocco. There's a former attorney general of the United States, a former vice president of the United States, and former presidents of the World Bank, the Pillsbury Company, Honeywell, the San Diego Padres, and Dairy Queen. Last, but certainly not least, is 2004 World Series of Poker Champion, Greg Reymer. I'll bet his salary tops $110,000!

Of course, these luminaries are joined by thousands of other graduates with equally distinguished careers in their own chosen fields. And, very soon, they will be joined by you.

Maybe you already have decided what and where you want your career to be. Or, perhaps not.

When I was your age, I had no idea what I wanted to become. I was pre-med in college. After graduating, I spent five years teaching in a New York City public school and working at a Boston social service agency. Not once, did I imagine being, or aspire to be, a United States Senator or Governor.

What I did aspire to do, however, was to make a difference. I was raised with a strong work ethic. My father used to tell us, "The only thing worse than a bum, is a rich bum." While I knew he secretly wanted me to go into the family business, his fundamental directive was to do something respectable. Instead, I went into politics! He also counseled, do whatever it is to the very best of your ability.

So, decide to make a difference. Remember that you will make a living by what you earn. You will make a life by what you give away—your love, compassion, help, and understanding. With your new degree, your intelligence, and your other talents, with a decent effort, your success is virtually assured.

Experts tell us that more than ever before, the difference between the successful high-earners and the struggling low-earners of your generation will be their education—which puts you at the front of a starting gate.

But which starting gate will you choose? How will you measure your progress? By your fame or your fortune? If so, when will they be enough?

Some 2,500 years ago, the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tse, said, "When you know that you have enough, then you are truly rich." However, in our driven, capitalist, achievement society, more is never enough. If "more" becomes your master, you will always be its slave.

So check in with yourself, as you start acquiring more of what you will then need more and more of. Are you happening to make a lot of money, while doing what you really love? If so, it is your good fortune to make a good fortune while also making yourself happy. On the other hand, if you aren't enjoying your job, no amount of compensation will fill that void inside you. The decision about your life's ultimate purpose or mission must be made by your heart and your soul, more than your intellect or your wallet.

Some 40 years ago, when I was about your age, a series of books were written by an anthropologist named Carlos Castenada. He claimed to have stumbled upon an Indian shaman on the New Mexico-Mexican border, who revealed to him the powerful and profound insights, which filled his books. Whether Don Juan was a real person or just Castenada's literary invention was never proven conclusively, and likely will not be, since Carlos is now dead. Regardless of their source, however, the words run deep.

At one point, Castenada asked Don Juan how he could tell if his life were on the right path. Don Juan replied, "All paths lead the same; they lead nowhere. Therefore, choose a path with heart. Try a path as many times as you must, then ask yourself, 'Does this path have a heart?' A Path with Heart makes you want to take it. Your life will feel meaningful and fulfilled. On the other hand, a path without heart will be hard to take and even harder to stay on. One path will make you curse your life; the other will open the door to life itself."

Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister, said the same more directly. "Natural abilities," she said, "are never enough. You must marry those natural abilities with really hard work. But the hard work comes more easily, when you are doing things that you want to do."

Now, finding your calling and following that path do not mean you have to take a vow of eternal poverty, or go meditate in the Himalayas for a decade. You can earn yourself a good living and give yourself a good life.

My father was a businessman. His intellect and his wallet were attached to Dayton's and Target stores. But his heart and soul were entwined with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, or MIA. Now almost 95 years-old, he has been a Trustee of the MIA for the past 74 years. He has given it much, in dollars and his best works of art. It was a labor of love for him all the way. He never sought recognition or accolades, though, when you reach 95, if you're still around, you get some of both. However, the fulfillment and the joy he received came from his giving.

Two of the very best people in my administration gave up their practice of law to join our cause. One left a lucrative private practice; the other had just been granted tenure at a nearby law school. They accepted pay cuts, ranging from 50% to 300%, even though both have families to support.

But they are having the times of their lives! Their enthusiasm for their jobs' hard challenges and their dedication to making other people's lives better animate their faces every day. They have found their calling, which, as MasterCard would say, is priceless. And they prove the axiom, "If you work at what you love, you'll never work a day in your life."

On the other side of the coin are some people I met 20 years ago, when I was Minnesota's State Auditor. Our office had the responsibility to audit and ensure the financial integrity of many local governments, including all 87 counties and the three largest cities.

Most of them were well-qualified, hard-working professionals. A few, however, mostly middle-aged men, had clearly lost their enthusiasm for auditing, if they ever had it to begin with. They believed they were stuck in jobs they disliked, because of their house payments, their children's dental work, spouse's car repairs, or mother's terminal illness. In reality, however, they were not bound to the office against their will. Every day, they chose to stay there: for the job security, steady income, more and more of what they wanted, and eventually, a pension. They fit Henry Thoreau's observation "Most men live lives of quiet desperation, and go to their graves with their songs unsung."

So, sing your song. Whatever it is, whatever it feels like in the moment, sing it. Sing it the very best you can. As someone said, "Anything worth doing, is worth doing badly until you learn to do it well." Your song may change as you grow older. That is to be expected and, if not welcomed, at least accepted. Each stage of life is unique. There's something to be learned every day. You may not like that day's lesson; however, they are usually the ones, which teach you the most.

I want to close with one final piece of advice, because it is the best I have ever received. Shortly before my two sons were born, 32 and 29 years ago, I read a comment by Jacqueline Kennedy. She said, "She thought if you failed at raising your children well, it didn't matter what you accomplished with the rest of your life." I took her advice to heart. It wasn't easy, as my wife and I divorced when our sons were very young. Nevertheless, we put our differences aside in order to both be the best possible parents.

I coached eight years of youth hockey with my older son, Eric, and seven years of youth baseball with my younger son, Andrew. They remain some of the best memories of my life. Watching those teams of young boys and a couple of young girls grow up together from ages 6 to 14 showed me the wisdom of Jackie Kennedy's insight. I could see that the kids who were developing the worst behavioral problems, usually had the most difficult family situations. I especially noticed that the boys having the hardest times mostly had no fathers. I'm guessing the same might be true for girls approaching adolescence without their mothers.

So, as you're climbing your ladder to success, don't forget the ones, who mean the most to you—your family. Years ago, I organized the kindergarten students–fathers picnic at my son's school. I called one dad, a lawyer, and asked for his help. He said, regretfully, that he had a big settlement conference that day, and wouldn't be able to make it. I knew his daughter would be disappointed, but I let it go. To my surprise, he appeared at the picnic, happily holding his daughter's hand, with her ecstatically holding his. He said that he asked himself, "In 20 years, would I look back and regret missing the settlement discussion…or my daughter's picnic?" He made the right decision.

My commencement address is finally over! You’'re one step closer to graduation. When you leave here, make a difference, sing your song, and have fun. Most of all, have fun. Life is an amazing journey, and you only get to do it once.


Read the commencement remarks from:

· Governor Mark Dayton
· Jorge Sepulveda (LL.M.)
· Emily Peterson (J.D.)

Return to the main article.