Hope returns


I was 6 years old when I stood in a long line with my parents and siblings in the school lunchroom in my hometown of Eureka, S.D. It seemed like the whole town was there, too. On that long ago day, each youngster was given a sugar cube which contained the polio vaccine. Even as kids, we understood that polio was dangerous and our parents were eager to protect us from the ravaging disease. I never asked my mother or father how they felt the day we were given the vaccine but I’m sure it was an enormous sense of relief.

All that came flooding back to me last Thursday as I sat among the 50 people who had just received the COVID-19 vaccine at the Swiftel Center. Honestly, it was a very emotional moment for me and one I will cherish for the rest of my life.

First, I realized that I was sitting with my generational contemporaries, many of whom shared a similar experience with their families 60 years ago. Second, I couldn’t have been more proud of the Brookings community. One hundred volunteers worked together to help their neighbors – bless every one of them as they blessed us! 

It was a Herculean task to shepherd a thousand people, many of whom had isolated themselves since last March, through an incredibly organized process. Kudos to Brookings County Emergency Manager, Bob Hill, his team, Brookings Health System and all those marvelous volunteers.

In an era where political discourse often divides us, I was profoundly moved by the spirit of genuine humanity that was on full display.

After leaving the Swiftel Center, I got in my car and drove back to Pierre as I needed to be present to vote on Senate Bill 171. This legislation is truly transformational as it provides for a needs-based scholarship program. South Dakota is the only state in the nation that does not award such a scholarship.

This scholarship will offer a much-needed hand to young people who have the potential but lack the resources to seek a degree in higher education. Recipients will need to be a resident of South Dakota for at least one year, attend a public or private college or university in South Dakota, demonstrate a financial need, maintain a 2.5 grade point average in order to remain eligible, and promise to work in South Dakota for three years after graduation. 

If they don’t stay the three years, they have to pay it back. The trust fund will consist of $200 million – $50 million of which will come from state funds (courtesy of CARES Act dollars), $100 million from T. Denny Sanford and First PREMIER, and $50 million being raised from other sources. Those benefactors will be named later. This is life-changing legislation and a big shout-out to those individuals and businesses with big hearts.

So, Feb. 25, 2021, was quite the day as I witnessed the best in people. And, it gave a lot of people hope.