Dusty Johnson encourages 2021 graduates to get engaged in politics

Congressman Dusty Johnson was the keynote speaker for the University of South Dakota's commencement exercises on Saturday, at the DakotaDome.

Congressman Dusty Johnson speaks at the University of South Dakota's commencement exercises on Saturday morning at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

VERMILLION — One day after the latest national job numbers report showed a rapid decline in job growth and an increase in unemployment, Congressman Dusty Johnson delivered the commencement address for the University of South Dakota.

“I think the enhanced unemployment has been a real problem. I mean, we know that there are millions of people out there who can work who are choosing not to, there are certainly jobs available,” Johnson told the Mitchell Republic on Saturday at the DakotaDome.

U.S. employers added a 266,000 jobs in April, according to a report Friday by the U.S. Labor Department, marking the weakest monthly gain since January. The unemployment rate ticked up to 6.1% in April from 6% a month earlier.

Shortly after the jobs report came out, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called for those in Washington to stop paying those on unemployment an additional $300 a week in benefits . The group said the boost in government aid is giving some less incentive to work, and some are taking home more in unemployment pay than they made when they were working.

“I think (the Biden) administration should work with Congress to end the enhanced unemployment benefits and provide some incentive to make it easier for people to get back to work,” Johnson said.


Johnson, of Mitchell, is a 1999 graduate of USD with a bachelor of arts degree in political science and minors in business administration and history. He spent the majority of his speech focused on the hostility that has taken place in politics and wants to see more people get engaged in politics.

“I think there's an over-the-top meanness in politics today. And I think that causes a lot of citizens to kind of want to walk away from it,” he said. “But I think it's more important than ever, that good people get engaged. Politics is not a spectator sport.

“And I think we need less negativity and more problem solving in politics. I think these students have an education that's prepared them well to be those kind of citizen problem solvers. Hopefully, they rise to the occasion.”

While making jokes and poking fun at the state of politics in general, Johnson emphasized that people shouldn’t cast out the views of people different than their own.

Saying that social media, and many politicians have used anger to fuel the divide in politics. Johnson emphasized that thinking about the message, rather than using emotions is how problems are solved.

“There is not one class where you solved a difficult assignment because of outrage,” Johnson said to the graduates.

For Johnson, the opportunity to speak was a chance to return to a campus where he has a lot of fond memories. It was also a celebration of sorts as activities are becoming larger and more interactive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following his speech, Johnson unveiled the first recipient of a new award created by his office called the Spirit of South Dakota.


“The spirit of South Dakota is just an incredible, indomitable spirit that we want to recognize and lift up,” Johnson said.

University of South Dakota Criminal Justice Professor Michael Roche is announced as the innaugural recipient of the Spirit of South Dakota award created by Congressman Dusty Johnson and his office during USD's commencement on Saturday morning at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Criminal Justice Professor Michael Roche, with more than 45 years of teaching experience at USD, was the inaugural recipient.

Johnson said there isn’t a set timeline as to when the award is given, but he wants to “raise up the best of South Dakota” and acknowledge them with the award from time-to-time.

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