The Kansas Territory was admitted to the Union as its 34th state 156 years ago. We emerged from a period of violence and political struggle – Bleeding Kansas. Within months, the Civil War erupted, pitching the nation against itself and testing the mettle of the Kansas Free-Staters fresh off their battle for individual liberty. Conflicts again broke out as Kansans took up arms to defend our state and the Union.

Today, some claim our nation has never been more divided. I will be the first to admit: America faces many serious problems and there is significant disagreement about the solutions. But I’m hopeful, because our current problems are not inherently more polarizing than those we have faced in the past – and our solutions shouldn’t be either. As we reflect on our state’s beginning, we Kansans should seize the opportunity to lead the way and refuse to let divisiveness overwhelm our vision for a better future.

Kansans have historically carried on the pioneering tradition of our state’s founders. We value community-mindedness, hard work and self-determination. It is the outlook that guided the millions of homesteaders and railroad workers who came from different regions to join together and build up a new place to call home. These traits and that desire to be independent live on today and empower us to set an example for the rest of the country that, despite our disagreements, we can work together to rise above disputes and come together to make positive improvements to our communities. In our pursuit of a better tomorrow, we must not allow ourselves to grow pessimistic about setbacks. This idea is underscored by our state’s motto, “To the Stars through difficulty.” We set our sights high and work doggedly to meet the challenge. It is the Kansas way.

Even the highest of aspirations, though, take root at the local level when people forge relationships and develop friendships person-to-person centered on a common interest. Understanding the value of friendship with our neighbors is the kind of thing I believe Kansans are best at. And it is not something we can afford to let fall by the wayside. As we seek to serve one another, a good first step is to redouble our commitments to our communities. We can get involved with a local service organization or nonprofit; cook for those in need; volunteer at church, an after-school program or a senior center; and engage with folks whose paths we might not routinely cross.

One of the most essential aspects of my job is traveling around the state and building relationships with the people I represent. Those conversations help keep me grounded, give me a better understanding of the specific issues facing our state, and help me focus my efforts in Washington. The time I spend listening to Kansans also adds weight to my perspective in Congress because my colleagues know that I am giving voice to the Kansas point of view and its many facets. My aim is to bring your perspective directly to the halls of the Senate based on what I hear from Johnson County to Johnson City and all the communities in between. This is how we make certain the people’s government answers to you, the people. Despite the fractures in Washington, there still is common ground to be found, but not without open dialogue and mutual understanding. The same is true for our communities in Kansas.

Let’s guide the way of our nation. Let’s be the example and always look for the best in each other. Our state’s 157th year holds tremendous promise, and I hope we realize that promise by carrying on our founders’ values and working together for the good of the state and nation. I’m grateful to again have the opportunity to serve in the United States Senate on your behalf. I take the blessing of being a Kansan to heart – each day, I hope to bring our home state’s sense of hard work, dedication to service and innate respect for our neighbors to my work in Washington, D.C.

May God continue to bless the great state of Kansas.