Mines News

Release Date Monday, May 2, 2022

Olympic Gold Medal Winner Billy Mills to Speak at South Dakota Mines 185th Commencement

Olympian Billy Mills is the featured speaker at the South Dakota Mines 185th commencement ceremony.

Olympian Billy Mills is the featured speaker at the South Dakota Mines 185th commencement ceremony starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 7, 2022, in the Ice Arena at The Monument in Rapid City.

William “Billy” Mills, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, was born in Pine Ridge and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Orphaned at age 12, he took up running and set records in numerous track events during high school at the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kan., a former residential boarding school for Native American children now known as Haskell Indian Nations University. He earned a track scholarship to the University of Kansas, where he excelled in cross country. He became a three-time NCAA All-American cross-country recipient and won the individual title at the Big Eight cross-country championship in 1960. After graduating, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve from 1962 to 1965.

Mills was largely unknown in the running world when he qualified for the 1964 Summer Olympics. His competition included Ron Clarke of Australia, who was the world record holder at the time. At those games, Mills became the first, and remains the only, gold medalist from the U.S. in the 10,000-meter run. His winning time of 28:24.4 was almost 50 seconds faster than he had run before and set a new Olympic record for the event.

Mills later set U.S. records for the 10,000-meter run and the three-mile run. He and fellow American Gerry Lindgren both broke the six-mile run world record in 1965, when they finished in a tie at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) National Championships.

He has been inducted into the U.S. National Track and Field Hall of Fame, the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, National Distance Running Hall of Fame, the Kansas Hall of Fame, the South Dakota Hall of Fame, the San Diego Hall of Fame, the National High School Hall of Fame, the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame, and the National Native American Hall of Fame. He is an author, public speaker, and co-founder of the nonprofit organization Running Strong for American Indian Youth.

Honorary Doctorates

The university will award Mills an honorary Doctor of Public Service during the ceremony. A second honorary doctorate will be awarded to Mr. Don Barnett, former mayor of Rapid City.

Barnett graduated from Rapid City High School in 1960 and received a bachelor’s degree in political science from South Dakota State University in 1964. He served in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1969. His military service included a tour in Vietnam as commander of a medical company, and he earned a Bronze Star for meritorious achievement as a result.

Don Barnett-1In 1971, he was elected mayor of Rapid City, becoming its youngest mayor at the age of 28. During his tenure, he led the city through four turbulent years, including the long recovery process from the Black Hills flash flood of 1972, which caused $165 million in damage and killed 238 people, and the heightened racial tensions, violence, and resulting American Indian Movement’s civil disobedience in 1973. His guidance led to the development and construction of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center (now known as The Monument), the central fire station, and the Dahl Fine Arts Center.

Barnett founded three cable television corporations and was responsible for preparing and managing the application process for dozens of cable television franchises in seven states. He then served as vice president and national marketing director for First Golf Corporation, a golf course development firm which led to the creation of 20 public golf facilities in 11 states. He later worked in marketing at THK Associates in Aurora, Colo., providing financial feasibility, land planning, and landscape architecture services.

He retired in 2010. He is an author, recipient of the 2018 Monsignor William O'Connell Founders Award by Catholic Social Services, and a 2011 inductee into the South Dakota Hall of Fame.

Senior Class Representative

This year’s student senior class representative is Jacob B. West, a computer science major who came to Mines after graduating from Sturgis Brown High School. His parents are Kristen and Wade Huntington and Brad and Karine West. He has two brothers, Joshua and Adam West, and two stepsiblings, Katie and Kade Huntington. West has been involved in various clubs and activities while at South Dakota Mines. He has served on the Student Association Senate since 2018 in several committees and  as vice president. He is the business manager and a regent of the Theta Tau professional engineering fraternity, treasurer of the Order of Omega Greek honor society, a first-year student mentor, and an orientation leader. He served on the South Dakota State Student Council Association from 2015 to 2018, as state president for two years and Rushmore Region reporter for one year, winning the All-State Student Council award in 2018. He has worked as a videographer, graphic designer, website designer, sound technician, stagehand, database administrator, and photobooth owner. 

After graduating with his Bachelor of Science degree in computer science, West will be working at Omnitech in Rapid City as a software engineer and outside sales representative.

50-year Graduates

Each spring, graduates celebrating their 50th reunion are invited back to take part in the commencement ceremony. A list of 50-year graduates from 1972 is in the university commencement program here.

Those who wish to view the graduation ceremony online can do so here.

President Rankin and other dignitaries should be available to comment to the press shortly after the conclusion of the ceremony around 11 a.m. 


About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.

Contact: Mike Ray, 605-721-7865, mike.ray@sdsmt.edu