For family and friends snapping pictures during graduation weekend at MU, nature provided an ideal backdrop of blue skies peppered with fluffy white clouds Saturday.
MU Chancellor Richard Wallace, participating in his last graduation ceremonies as chancellor this weekend, commented on the clear and cool weather as he began the 10th annual Honors Convocation, the ceremony for the 821 students graduating with honors. MU is giving out a total of 4,281 degrees.
“It just doesn’t get better than this in Missouri,” he said. “Even the birds have joined us for this glorious occasion.”
Ann McCollough, who drove from Washington, Mo., to watch her son graduate, said the beautiful day added to her pride in the ceremonies and the students participating in them.
“I’m almost in tears,” she said. “This is my first time at a graduation, and it is just awesome. The weather is perfect, the campus looks perfect, everything is just perfect.”
Her son was less emotional — just relieved.
“I’m just glad I made it this far,” said Adam Estep, who graduated from the School of Journalism on Saturday.
Skip Elkin said his wife, Lucy, who graduated from the College of Education, was also relieved because she’s been working and they’ve been raising two daughters while she was getting her degree.
“I’m very proud — she’s worked very hard to get here,” he said.
The Honors Convocation, which took place on Francis Quadrangle, also honored two people with the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.
One degree went to Dick Gregory, a renowned comedian and long-time civil and human right’s activist from St. Louis. He has fought with tools of comedy, marches and strikes for racial equality, world hunger and health issues.
In his remarks at the ceremony, he drew attention to how far the country and university have come by reminding attendants that when he went to college in 1952, MU was not an option for him because of his race.
“But now, I’ve been invited home,” he said. “Let me say thanks to you for bringing me home.”
He also encouraged the graduates to continue to fight for a better society.
“This whole world is yours,” he said. “The old folks messed it up, but you young folks can clean up our mess.”
The other honorary degree went to Pat Hume, a native of Derry in Northern Ireland. She was recognized for her attempts to find nonviolent solutions to the problems in her country and the world, her work with a public broadcasting authority in Ireland and the funding she has helped find for victims and families.
“If I had just one simple message,” she said to the graduates, “I would tell you the challenges will come, and they will take a different form for each of you. Take a deep breath and live them.”
One challenge many graduates face is finding a place in the working world. Steve Wurtz from Topeka, Kan., watched his daughter Stephanie graduate with a broadcast journalism degree and said she is busy looking for a job. She has sent about 30 applications across the country.
“It’s important these graduates know that with this current economy, jobs are tough to get,” he said. “People won’t be coming to you, so you need to look at different opportunities, ask questions, find a network and just set it up so you secure a job.”
While the graduates looked forward to the future, several faculty members reflected on the past. After 38 years at MU and serving as chancellor since 1996, Wallace will retire in August. Dean Mills, the dean of the School of Journalism, paid tribute to Wallace during convocation.
“Most of the exciting advances that have happened in the past few years we owe in part to Wallace,” Mills said. “Although he’ll be the last to take credit for it.”
Wallace spoke at the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ ceremony Saturday. Thomas Payne, vice chancellor for agriculture and dean of the school, had to pause when introducing Wallace.
“I get a little choked up because he’s retiring,” he said, “and he’s cool.”
Wallace spoke about his appreciation for the agriculture students and his expectations that they will apply their learning to help make the world better.
“My hope for each of you is that you find a role that matches your talents and interests,” he said. “It should express who you are and be a pleasure for you every day.”
Wallace will also speak at 2 p.m. today at the College of Arts and Science’s ceremony at the Hearnes Center.