05/07/2012 11:50 am ET Updated Aug 10, 2012

Kristi Noem College Graduation: South Dakota Representative Earns Political Science Degree (VIDEO)

Nearly two decades after enduring a tragic family loss, Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) is a college graduate.

The 40-year-old congresswoman celebrated at South Dakota State University on Saturday, earning a bachelor's degree in political science and delivering a speech to her classmates.

Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, Noem had been on track to finish school in her 20s, as most students do. But when Noem was 22, her father was killed in a farming accident, prompting her to drop out and return to her family's ranch.

"It turned our whole lives upside down," she told CBS News. "He was the guy who could do anything,"

Now a mother of three, Noem added that her father would think she was "crazy" for serving in Congress -- something that she "never really talked about doing before."

WATCH part of the CBS story above.