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Dayton hangs with Bird Island, Minn., teen, classmates

Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls, from left, McKaia Ryberg and Gov. Mark Dayton share a laugh Friday during the governor's visit to St. Mary's Catholic School in Bird Island, where Ryberg is a student. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

BIRD ISLAND -- Although she was just 12 at the time, McKaia Ryberg didn't feel so much as a twinge of the nerves when she sang the national anthem at Gov. Mark Dayton's inauguration.

Dayton couldn't say the same Friday, when he made good on a promise and visited Ryberg and her classmates at St. Mary's Catholic School in Bird Island.

"I have to make a confession," the governor told an assembly of the elementary school's 123 students. "I get extra nervous talking in front of young people."

He blamed it on his son, Andrew. As a youngster Andrew told his father that he didn't want to accompany him to an event. "He looked at me very seriously. 'I heard you speak once; dad, you were really boring,"' the governor said.

The tone was light-hearted Dayton and State Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls, joined to hear performances by Ryberg and a St. Mary's student choir.

Ryberg, now 13, is a seventh-grader at the school.

Kubly, a Lutheran minister, used the voice of his iPad to jokingly tell the students that he always believed Catholics didn't know how to sing. "The next generation will know how to sing, thank you for that," said Kubly. His speaking ability is compromised from Lou Gehrig's disease.

Dayton was attending a Tim Orth Memorial Foundation benefit two years ago when he first heard Ryberg sing. He was so impressed that he sought her out and talked to her in the stands that night. After being elected governor, he called her and invited her to sing at his inauguration.

At the governor's request, Ryberg also sang for a crowd of more than 20,000 when President Obama visited the Twin Cities.

She didn't get nervous at either performance, according to her parents, Brian and Sandy Ryberg of rural Buffalo Lake.

Speaking after the assembly, Dayton said he once was asked by students at Hopkins High School if he knew anyone famous. He threw out names like Hilary Clinton and Obama. The student who had posed the question shook her head and said "no, I mean like Josh Hartman or Scarlett Johansson."

"Now," the governor said, beaming and nodding toward Ryberg, "I know someone who will be famous."

While the governor enjoyed the light-hearted bantering, he also shared a few poignant messages. He said the best advice he had ever heard was when Jacqueline Kennedy said, "If you failed at raising your children ... it didn't matter what you accomplished with the rest of your life."

The governor also made it clear that the chance to get away from the difficulties of his political role and see young people revitalizes him. "When I come out to the real world, and especially when I see young people, I really have so much hope for the future," he said.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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