updated 5/28/2006 2:41:17 AM ET 2006-05-28T06:41:17

Vice President Dick Cheney told graduates of his old high school Saturday to keep their eyes open for unexpected opportunities.

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Cheney recalled for the Natrona County High School Class of 2006 how George W. Bush asked him to lead the search for his running mate in the 2000 presidential race.

“We all know how that turned out,” Cheney said. “Let me put this lesson in very specific terms. If you’re ever asked to head up an important search committee, say ‘yes.’ “

Cheney headed a three-month search in 2000 that ended up with his own selection to be Bush’s running mate.

Fond memories
Cheney has extensive ties in Wyoming. Cheney’s family moved to Casper in 1954 and both he and his wife, Lynne, graduated from Natrona County High in 1959. Cheney was senior class president and a member of the football team; Lynne was homecoming queen and a star baton-twirler.

Cheney said meeting Lynne was the best thing that happened to him in high school.

“I explained to friends the other day that if I hadn’t moved to Casper, she would have married someone else. And she said, ‘Right, and he would be vice president of the United States,”’ Cheney joked.

Cheney told the 340 or so graduates there is truth in the old adage about carefully choosing friends.

“They have a big influence on the person you will become,” he said. “In many ways, when you choose your friends, you choose your future. Remember too, the best friends you will ever have are the first people you ever knew.”

However far you may live from your parents, he said, “I promise you, you will never regret staying close.”

On work: “A good rule is to stay focused on the job you have, not the next job you might want. In your careers people will give you more responsibility when they see that you take your present job seriously,” he said.

Cheney also talked about following advice, such as when former Wyoming Gov. Stan Hathaway, an early political mentor, counseled him not to run for the Senate.

“He said, ‘Well, you can do that, but there’s one problem,”’ Cheney recalled. “He said, ‘Dick, if you run for the Senate, Al Simpson will kick your fanny.’ I took his advice to heart and I ran for the House.”

Cheney was elected to the U.S. House in 1978.

Graduates impressed
About 6,000 people attended the graduation at the Casper Events Center. Cheney shook the graduates’ hands as they received their diplomas.

“It was impressive how he incorporated his own history and related it to ours at the same time,” graduate Jai-Ayla Sutherland, the 2006 senior class president, said.

Cheney has been to his old high school a couple times as vice president. He attended his 45th high school reunion last year and the homecoming game in 2002. Meyer said the Cheneys go to all their reunions every five years.

Cheney last publicly visited Wyoming in February, addressing the Legislature in Cheyenne soon after accidentally wounding a hunting partner in Texas. He visits his home in Jackson Hole regularly. President Bush and Cheney won Wyoming with 69 percent of the vote in 2004.

“It’s a tension release for him to get back here,” said Wyoming Secretary of State Joe Meyer, a member of the Class of 1959 who later roomed with Cheney at the University of Wyoming.

“You can just see the change in his face — some of the creases vanish. He just loves coming back here.”

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