Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander at the December UMSL Commencement

Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander delivers the UMSL commencement address in December to the College of Arts and Sciences graduating class. (Photo by Grad Images)

Last December Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander came to UMSL to deliver the commencement address for the fall graduating class. Kander is the youngest person in America to hold statewide office, and his address at UMSL was his first commencement speech as secretary of state. In his remarks he encouraged students to do two things: commit a few hours each month to serving their community and to thank a teacher who has helped them along the way. Kander took time out of his busy schedule to talk with UMSL Daily about the commencement address, his higher education experience and tweeting.

You said you weren’t going to ask graduates to go out and single handedly save the world, instead you asked them to thank a teacher, commit a few hours a month to a cause. What was behind the pragmatic requests?

There are a lot of ways to practice public service. Not everyone has to run for public office. It’s a public service to volunteer in your community. The more people take part in what happens in our community and our state, the better off our state will be. As I said in the speech, in a way I was sort of asking them to go out and change the world — just a bit at a time.

Many people graduating from UMSL grew up in the St. Louis region. What would you say to those who want to help their community but also want to experience other locales around the world and in the United States?

I think it’s a good thing to travel and to gain experience around the country and around the world, but I also think there’s something very valuable about home. I think it’s very important to always put a premium on home. I spent some time on the East Coast for school and in the Army I worked in several different places, but I never stopped having a great desire to go home. That’s ultimately what I was able to do. There is only one place that is really your home. Folks who call St. Louis home or who call Missouri home are very fortunate. I hope graduates of UMSL and other schools in Missouri choose to stay in the community, and if they choose to leave for a while, I hope they choose to come back.

You made a request of graduating UMSL students – you had a pretty clear idea what you wanted them to do as individuals. What about UMSL as an institution? What should it strive to do both in 2014 and beyond?

UMSL is on a great track. I’m really impressed. Since I became secretary of state I’ve been invited and visited the school a few times. Each time I’m there I’m more and more impressed with the different programs they’ve launched. So to continue with the aggressive and bold approach. UMSL is a very important part of the University of Missouri System. (The Veterans Center) is one of the programs that I would single out for sure. I’ve been very pleased with how universities around Missouri are setting up veterans centers to accommodate returning veterans and make sure they feel welcome. The effort at UMSL is one I would definitely point to as a model.

What were a few of your biggest takeaways from your own undergraduate experience?

I feel I use my education all the time. I had the opportunity to learn quite a lot about policy and government in my undergraduate major and it’s been very useful to me. But I also had the opportunity to do several internships and get work experience while I was an undergrad and that helped me quite a lot too. Education is the best economic development tool we have.

In your commencement address you said: “I believe that I am where I am today because I have chosen to try to do something rather than just be something.” That really struck a lot of people in the audience. Could you elaborate briefly?

I just feel that when people are focused on being something, or focused on having a title, they generally don’t perform as well. They’re probably not as satisfied in their career. When you’re focused on doing something, achieving something, making a change that you want to see in the world actually happen, you are just far more likely to reach your goals and people can tell the difference. Whether they are hiring someone or voting for someone they are looking for people who really believe in what they are doing and are doing it for something other than self-actualization, something other than themselves. That’s why I always try to encourage to try to do something rather than just be something.

One last question. You have a pretty active Twitter account. Is that really you tweeting?

That’s really me.

This story was written by Ryan Krull, a student pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing from UMSL.

Ryan Krull

Ryan Krull

Ryan Krull is a second year student in the MFA program at UMSL. His fiction and journalism has appeared online and in print.
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