Joni Ernst

Class of 2020 Commencement Address - May 23, 2020

Joni Ernst
May 23, 2020
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Hello everyone. I wanted to take a moment to offer my congratulations to the class of 2020. You did it, you made it, and a huge congratulations is in order. You should all be extremely proud of yourselves and you deserve a lot of credit as does the community around you. Whether that be the friends, family, neighbors or teachers who were with you all along the way. So, make sure that you take a moment to show gratitude toward the people who helped you get here today. Thank your friends for the laughter they brought you, for stepping up when you needed them most, from making tough exams, daunting projects or being away from home a little less scary because you had them by your side.

I know for me growing up in rural Iowa, we were more than just peers in a classroom, we were a community. No matter the challenges, we were in it together. Because I attended such a small school, each one of us classmates made a difference. I remember when my high school was forming a debate team, I wasn't enrolled in the debate class but they needed one more person in order to compete so I volunteered and joined the team. It was true in many activities with my classmates — including music and sports — while we all had varying skills, we all joined in to help each other out. It was about being there for our community and we all gained invaluable skills by participating in activities that challenged us but brought us together.

Next, thank your family for the support and encouragement they provided you and for the lessons they taught you. I didn't come from much but my mother always said to me, “Joni, whatever you want to do we will figure out a way to do it, whatever you want to be, you can be.” And those words of encouragement and perseverance have stayed with me through some of the toughest times all the way to the United States Senate.

Finally, thank your teachers for pushing you to give your best, for helping you hone the skills you needed to get today, for dedicating their lives to bettering yours. And as you leave to take on your next chapter, they will continue working tirelessly to better the lives of the next round of students in your communities. I can't tell you how much I love that some of the same teachers who taught me also taught my daughter Libby years and years later. Your teachers helped you get ready for the entire lifetime you have ahead of you and they are an integral part of your success.

Graduation day isn't about the end of something, it's about all that is yet to come. You're not closing the book; you're turning the page to the next chapter. And what you learned here has prepared you for what is next. You gained the fortitude to bounce back after a grade didn't go as you had hoped, the determination to spend hour upon hour to finalize important projects and meet deadlines, the bravery to step out of your comfort zone overcome fears and make something that may have felt impossible possible. These are skills you will take with you for the rest of your life. And for this special group of seniors, it took even more resilience when you had your last few months of school disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It could not have been easy to have things change on you so quickly, to have your classes move online, for the student activities you enjoy with your friends to come to an early end, to not have the opportunity to say all your goodbyes. I want to commend each and every one of you for the grace and strength you have shown through these difficult times. You may be disappointed to be missing out on a traditional graduation day but just because you won't get to walk across the stage doesn't take away from your incredible achievements. Know that you have built an incredible community of friends, loved ones and teachers who will always cheer you on and support you. I hope all of you are finding ways to celebrate this incredible accomplishment, you earned it. I am excited for what's to come as you continue to make Iowa proud. Congratulations to the class of 2020.

Ernst. J. K. [We Are Iowa Local 5 News]. (2020, May 23). Sen. Joni Ernst gives commencement speech for 2020 graduates []. Retrieved on June 19, 2020 from