Missouri novelist Daniel Woodrell awarded honorary doctorate
On a cold and snowy Saturday, under the serenade of the UMKC Brass Ensemble, the University of Missouri-Kansas City presented bachelors and graduate degrees to more than 900 students at Mid-Year Commencement ceremonies.
UMKC also awarded an honorary doctorate to Missouri novelist Daniel Woodrell, author of 10 books including “Winter’s Bone” and “Woe to Live On,” both made into major motion pictures. “Woe to Live On” was retitled “Ride with the Devil” for the movie. Woodrell was presented with a hood and diploma at the College of Arts and Sciences ceremony in the late afternoon.
Woodrell, a Missouri native, is known for storytelling that evokes life in his Missouri Ozarks homeland. Woodrell left high school to join the United States Marine Corps when he was 17. After serving a short stint in the military, he attended the University of Kansas and earned a degree in general studies, followed by a master of fine arts degree from the University of Iowa.
“Similar to many of our graduates, Daniel’s story is one of perseverance and self-discovery,” Vaught said. “He is widely acknowledged for influencing a genre of novels that explore the stories of the poor and working class in rural communities. Daniel is recognized as one of the most gifted American writers working today.”
In true ceremonial tradition, guests presented congratulations and words of encouragement in their commencement addresses. UMKC alumnus and Avila University Artist-in-Residence Stanley E. Banks gave the College of Arts and Sciences Commencement address.
“Today is ‘G’ Day!” Banks declared. As an educator, Banks has taught hundreds of students from the very young to adults. He noticed his students searching for a place in life and that they either had a lack of imagination or had the drive to spark their imaginations.
“Imagination helps us evolve and become a better individual,” Banks said. “You never know where wisdom will come from. We think beyond what is possible.”
Banks shared his personal story of growing up in poverty near the 18th and Vine jazz district to becoming a university professor. When speaking to the graduates gathered in Swinney Recreation Center, Banks asked them to remember the people who challenged them during their college journey.
“Write your own stories. You never know where wisdom will come from. Make the world a better place.”
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon spoke at the Multi-School ceremony in the morning and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II spoke at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management ceremony in the early afternoon. UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton also spoke to students at the Multi-School and Bloch ceremonies.
“Students, you are the key ingredient in your own successful career,” Morton said. “UMKC is an urban university, and as students here, you were asked to tackle serious urban issues head-on. Through those experiences, we hope you have learned the importance of extending a helping hand and the value of commitment and contribution to your home community.”
UMKC Student Government Association President Navya Sane brought greetings students in the morning with a request.
“Try to make the world a better place,” Sane said. “Look inside yourself and believe that change starts with you, with me, with all of us. Together we can inspire galaxies of greatness for generations to come.”
At the Bloch School ceremony Xiaomei Grazia Xiong presented the student address, Curator John R. Phillips brought greetings from the UM System Board of Curators and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II presented the commencement address.
UMKC Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Bichelmeyer, Ph.D., delivered congratulations and well wishes at the College of Arts and Sciences ceremony. Laurel Weir, UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance student, sang the National Anthem and the Alma Mater at all three ceremonies.
“We believe that you’ve prepared yourself for the broader world, and that you’ve acquired the confidence, skills and knowledge you’ll need to navigate an ever-shifting landscape in the days to come,” Biechelmeyer said. “There are challenges before you, but I know you are up to those challenges.”