East Ridge High School is hoping to emphasize the importance of community service to its students, so who better to hear from than a governor who made community service central to his inauguration speech.

Gov. Mark Dayton visited East Ridge Tuesday to speak with students about community service.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"Community involvement is the most meaningful part of anything I've done," Dayton said. "I've learned so much from what I've done, with being involved."

The topic of Dayton's speech was "giving back to your community." Dayton also took questions from students following his speech in the Loft Stage.

"Those experiences that went outside the experiences of my personal realm -- that's how I've gotten here," he said. "It comes down to leaving my cocoon and getting involved with other people's lives."

Other topics discussed during Dayton's East Ridge visit included grants for college students, mandatory testing and the federal budget deficit.

"I thought it was really interesting to hear about his drive to be who he is today," East Ridge Student Council President Dale Hoeffel said. "It was really interesting to hear what went through his head while he was growing up because that's where we're at right now."

Student Council Vice President Megan Snyder said it was exciting to shake the governor's hand.

"It's a bigger deal than just Mr. Harper who we see on a daily basis -- he's actually an influential person," she said, referring to East Ridge Principal Aaron Harper. "He makes decisions outside of our bubble."

Harper said Dayton's visit was an honor.

"We were hopeful, somewhat optimistic, but we knew his schedule is obviously very busy," he said. "I really am appreciative of the governor for being willing to make it work.

"I think the kids really enjoyed the conversation; it was well received."

Harper said it was very beneficial for students to actually see the governor in person.

"It does give students the opportunity to see what he's about and that he really is just a human being like them," he said. "That's important for them to see and experience."

Inviting the governor

The idea of inviting the governor to speak dates back to January. East Ridge administrators were beginning conversations about including a community service project at the end of the year.

Woodbury High School annually has a Senior Service Day.

"We wanted to make sure our seniors valued, or at least had the opportunity to internalize the value, of giving back to the community," Harper said.

It was Assistant Principal Dennis Roos who suggested the school reach out to Dayton after hearing his inaugural speech in which he referenced volunteerism and community service.

"We're all on the same wave length here," Roos said. "By having someone like the governor come, it shows the students that we are very serious about this being a tradition that we would like to have here at East Ridge."

Harper said he felt Dayton would be a great person to talk to the students since he himself has a long history of community service.

During his visit, Dayton said he began volunteering as an orderly at 15 years old.

The beginning of a tradition

Both Harper and Roos agree that having the seniors involved in the community is a beneficial tradition to have at the school.

"They have a fantastic school here, so they need to thank the community," Roos said. "It all comes back to giving back to the community."

Currently East Ridge is in the process of organizing its senior community service project, planned to take place within the last couple weeks of school.

Officials are undecided what the project will be, but Harper said the students are discussing volunteering at local senior centers or participating in some sort of fundraiser walk.

"That one specifically is very heartfelt because of our connection with Ann," Harper said referring to Ann Haering, an East Ridge student who died this winter of cancer. "The students are talking about what they want to do as a senior class."

Harper said he hasn't considered inviting the governor back to speak to future classes.

"I don't think it's as important to have a governor back," he said. "What's important is that we have someone the kids can connect with and understand."

Roos said he would love to invite Dayton back.

"All they can do is tell us is 'no,'" he said.

Hoeffel and Snyder said Dayton's message of community service is one that they will carry with them.

"What I'll most take away from his speech is that you have the control to do what you want -- it's up to you to make this a better place for everyone," Hoeffel said. "That was plain and simple the truth, we have the power to do it."