Guest Opinions

We all benefit from Dirk Kempthorne’s example, passion for people

Dirk Kempthorne
Dirk Kempthorne File photo

Commencement is a special time for a university president. I enjoy welcoming graduates to the stage as they take their next step toward exciting careers and new opportunities.

This spring, we celebrate with the help of a distinguished UI alumnus, former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, recognizing his long career of exemplary public service with an honorary doctorate of administrative science. Few public servants in Idaho history have left a mark on our state and country like Gov. Kempthorne. Beginning with his election as president of the Associated Students of the University of Idaho in the 1970s, Kempthorne’s career in public service is a remarkable journey from mayor to U.S. senator to governor to U.S. Interior secretary.

You would be hard-pressed to find a better example for students of the benefits of going where your ideals and interests lead you.

Kempthorne’s passion for helping people — a trait ingrained in him by his parents — is why he initially came to U of I to study medicine, working at Gritman Medical Center and seeing firsthand the fear of those facing a medical crisis.

College is a time to explore your passions, and while the governor’s heart was in service, he found his intellectual interests pulled in a different direction, and he switched his major to political science. But his passion for people has remained unchanged throughout his life.

That passion, combined with a gift for diplomacy and willingness to listen, epitomizes Kempthorne’s legacy. As a young Boise mayor, he helped initiate downtown revitalization. After a term in the U.S. Senate, the twice-elected Idaho governor led statewide transportation improvement efforts while supporting renovations of educational facilities statewide, including BSU’s West Campus Academic Building in Nampa (now owned by the College of Idaho). His tenure leading the Department of the Interior is highlighted by his championing of the national park system.

Regardless of political party, Kempthorne earned a reputation for compassion and genuine interest in creating opportunities for Idahoans from all walks of life. Now president and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers, he has built a legacy of principle and hard work that can be appreciated by all our graduates. Worth noting, another important turning point for Kempthorne occurred in Moscow when he met his wife, Patricia, a nonprofit leader and community volunteer, and herself an honorary degree recipient.

When he returns to campus, Kempthorne will discover the newly renovated library where he cultivated his interest in public service. He will find our Teaching and Learning Center, a fixture of his student experience, now remodeled through investment he led as governor. He will find our political science curriculum robust. As a “doctor” now — albeit of a different kind — he may value our expanded medical education program and WWAMI facility renovation plans.

I know he will also appreciate that his example lives on in the many graduates who are making their own tough choices, blazing their own paths toward making an impact on our world and a difference for others.

Chuck Staben is president of the University of Idaho.