Ridgewater College graduates heard messages about the importance of education and of doing work they love from speakers at their commencement Friday afternoon.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Willmar business owner Loren Corle spoke during the ceremony at the Willmar Civic Center.

With a looming crisis in the agricultural economy, and some upheaval in the overall economy, "what is the one good thing we should be doing for our economy?" Klobuchar asked.

"That is to get more students like all of you to get degrees that are practical, that are going to lead to jobs that are open right now," she said.

The state has "so many great jobs that are open," she said, and she credited the graduates and their families for focusing on high-demand jobs, things like nursing, veterinary technology and welding.

Klobuchar urged the graduates to pay attention to the world around them and to get to know people with different political views, "and listen to them. ... I try to find common ground when I can but stand my ground in other ways."

Corle, who graduated from Ridgewater with an associate degree in industrial welding in 1978, said he was nearly broke and could put everything he owned in the trunk and back seat of his car when he finished school. He now owns Relco in Willmar, which employs 150 people and has placed its equipment in more than 30 countries.

He was a bit nervous after graduation, he said, "but I had the confidence I had the tools it would take to be a success."

Corle said he saw the pride he felt that day in the students as they filed in to the ceremony. That pride is an important first step toward the future.

"You came to Ridgewater College to make a better life for yourself," Corle said, and earning money is part of that.

"That salary, that value is uniquely yours, and you are going to be able to take that money and spend it on what you need and want in life," Corle said.

But life isn't all about money, he said. "One thing I've discovered is that the most successful people I know, the ones that are truly happy, really love what they do at work."

Corle said he didn't believe in work-life balance as an either-or proposition.

"I don't think there's two things, they're not opposing forces to be balanced," he said. "There's only one thing, and that's life."

In their later years, he said, he hopes they will be able to sit back with a sense of pride and self esteem, and look back on a productive and happy life. "That will be priceless," he concluded.