ELLIS — As the 37 graduates of Ellis High School waited to begin the next step of their lives, a Kansas senator who grew up in a town much like their own told them to remember how their hometown has shaped their lives.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., wearing the school colors in a black suit and orange tie, was a featured speaker at the EHS graduation Saturday, appearing at the invitation of now-graduate Haley Reiter.

Reiter had been persistent in emailing Moran’s office with the invitation, a move that not only resulted in the Plainville native speaking at graduation, but making a visit to the school last month to learn about EHS and its students.

“When I was here in April, I asked these students about their school and about their life in Ellis. I heard compliments. No one was decrying the fact they lived and grew up and were now graduating from Ellis High School. I was told about long-term friendships and pride in the hometown,” he said.

“Life in this community has a lot to do with who you are and what you will become,” he said.

And while some students were eager to leave their hometown, many also spoke of one day returning to raise their own families, Moran said.

“There’s nothing wrong with seeing the rest of the world, but there’s nothing wrong with knowing that where you come from may be the place to live and to find your success,” he said.

Moran told the students he measures success differently than most of the world.

“I'm convinced that success in life is not measured by what material things you get out of life, but by what we give back. We learn that in places like Ellis,” he said.

He challenged the graduates to do three things in their lives: become a person of character who commits themselves to pursuing excellence and putting other people first.

“We’re often told our country needs great leaders. But I think what we really need are great servants. People who put other people first,” Moran said.

“Two years ago there was a call to make America great again,” he said, referring to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan.

“Our nation will not be great as the result of any election, but it will be better, closer to being great, if we begin to live our lives different than we have been living them. The changes we desire in our nation come in large part by changing ourselves,” he said.