Defining success — road warrior style

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Greetings from Valley City State University!Five days and 2,100 miles. That was my road warrior tally from some exciting travel I enjoyed May 22-26.I was one of many who made the trek to Springfield, Missouri, to cheer on our VCSU softball team. What an incredible season they had! They won both the NSAA regular-season and tournament championships, won the NAIA regionals in Columbia, Missouri, and then advanced to the NAIA World Series in Springfield.Coaches Michael Mook and Janelle Trautman assembled a team that was highly productive in every aspect of the game. They truly dominated the sport in this part of the nation and are the pride of VCSU. If you’ve followed their season, you are aware of the great success they enjoyed. With a final record of 54-5 and nearly a 3.0 team GPA, they are a model for success in and out of the classroom. I was very proud to attend a part of the World Series, and while the final result was not a national championship, being on that stage was a fantastic experience for our student-athletes, university, community and state! Although I didn’t travel to Gulf Shores, Alabama, I congratulate the seven members of the VCSU track and field teams who competed in the national championships there. Another tremendous experience for our student-athletes, with Kyle Odegard (javelin) and Dennis Gonzalez (marathon) adding frosting to the cake by bringing home All-American honors for the Vikings.After returning to North Dakota from Missouri on Saturday, May 25, I made the trip to Devils Lake to speak at the high school commencement there. It was an honor to share in the special day for these high school graduates as they prepare to enter the next exciting phase of their lives. I felt especially connected to the parents, as my youngest daughter Lexi had graduated from high school just one week prior. The pride of the accomplishment, blended with a nervous excitement for the future, resonates with all on these special days.My message was short and simple: Pursue your passion, no matter what it is, and always give your very best in an attempt to be the best you can be. There really are no shortcuts to success. Regardless of their paths forward — whether attending a technical school, college or university; entering the military or workforce; or continuing to work on the family farm or in the family business — I encouraged them to search for ways to grow individually and improve continuously. I have to admit that over 35 years ago when I decided to pursue graduate school and advanced degrees in music performance, I could have never anticipated that I would someday be a university president, but you just never know the direction your career path will take. Over the course of those intervening years, I focused on becoming the best musician, teacher, professor and administrator I could be. Along the way, opportunities were presented, and doors were opened (and sometimes closed!). I encouraged the students to set ambitious goals and always strive to be the best at what they do. When the path becomes difficult, learn from the struggles and failures, and use those experiences to propel you to the next success.I also explained to them that as they grow in years, their own definitions of success will change. This is a natural part of the learning and growing process, and whenever one is striving to build a skill set, the bar keeps rising as improvement and growth occurs. I encouraged them to live their lives with integrity, honesty and compassion, embrace the differences of others, and to follow their passion and stay true to themselves. By doing so, they will find what they like, and doors of opportunity, not even imagined today, will open for them.Will they remember what I said? Probably not. But I hope they remember the theme — to pursue their passion, work hard, and constantly strive for success and improvement. It will be exciting, in another 30 years, to see and reflect on the successes of the class of 2019!Go Vikings!