Weekly Columns

Commencement exercises are underway across Arkansas and all over the country. I had the honor of addressing the Class of 2016 at commencement ceremonies at Arkansas State University and my alma mater, the Southern College of Optometry.

My message to graduates was simple: find a way to use your talents, and all that you have learned in school, to help your community.

I was invited to speak because of my role as a U.S. Senator, a position that I never thought I would be in, especially at my own commencement ceremonies.

After I graduated from optometry school, my brother and I started a private practice in Northwest Arkansas. We built our little clinic into a major eye care provider in the region and I always expected I would work there until I retired. At the same time, I realized that having a business in the community means that you have an obligation to the citizens who live there.

That’s why I ran for an open seat on the Rogers School Board. I never had any intention of running for office, but my three daughters were in public school and I thought that serving on the school board would be a good way to give back to my community.

This scenario has continued throughout my public service career. When there was a vacancy for the Third Congressional District of Arkansas seat, I sought counsel from a number of people, one of which was Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt. The late Congressman was revered for his constituent services work. John Paul showed me that representing Arkansas in Congress is not about politics, but about serving the people. It’s about using the power of the office for good. This is the motto that I carry with me as I serve Arkansans.

But, you don’t have to to be an elected official to make a difference.

In 2008, Ward Brehm, a Minnesota businessman, was the first person from the business community to be asked by Congress to give the address at the National Prayer Breakfast. Brehm shared the transformation he experienced on his first trip to Africa, a trip he didn’t even want to take. The trip opened his eyes to God’s calling and mission for him to contribute his time and skills to change the lives of Africans.

Ward has devoted himself to helping the people of Africa by enlisting local support to build infrastructure that provides clean water in places where kids often die of waterborne diseases by age five. He didn’t set out on this endeavor for financial gain, rather he made this his cause because he felt this was a way he could use his talents for good.

I relayed this story as a reminder that it is important for each of us to never be content with our own personal successes. Ward clearly exemplifies what it means to be a success in the business world, but he also understands his calling is much greater than personal accomplishments.

This generation has an opportunity to effectuate positive change. It is one of the brightest, most motivated and technologically advanced generations in history. After sharing the stage with the members of the Class of 2016, I am confident that they will make a difference in the world.