Truman Grandson Speaks at UMKC Commencement

President Truman received the
university’s first honorary doctorate in 1945

Some moments really do come full circle.

That was certainly the case at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s mid-year commencement ceremonies, when Clifton Truman Daniel — grandson of President Harry Truman – addressed an enthusiastic crowd on the UMKC campus. His grandfather did the same thing in 1945, just weeks after he assumed the presidency.

So, not far from where his grandfather received UMKC’s (then the University of Kansas City) first honorary doctorate, and in the university where his grandfather attended law school for two years, Clifton Truman Daniel delivered a heartfelt message. It was advice his grandfather had given him — sometimes verbally and other times through action — that he wanted to pass on to the latest group of UMKC graduates.

The first bit of advice? Read, and then read some more.

“If you ever wanted to find grandpa, you would find him in the library with a book on his lap,” Clifton Truman Daniel said, adding that his grandfather often told him, “It’s what you learn when you think you know it all already. That’s when you really start learning.””

As he looked out over the rows and rows of mortar boards, and out into the surrounding audience of excited family and friends, Daniel ticked through the decades-old, highly relevant advice.

He implored the new graduates to be tough. To be honest, even when doing so is difficult. To do right. To not be so impressed with people’s titles.

The crowd laughed as he couched that last bit of advice with a winking apology to the Deans and faculty members who sat nearby him.

Wayne Vaught, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, stated what many people were already thinking – that having Harry Truman’s grandson on campus, just in time for UMKC’s 80th anniversary – made it feel as if the stars had aligned.

In 1945, shortly after Harry Truman delivered the speech on what is now the south terrace of Scofield Hall, then-UKC President Clarence Decker requested a memento of the visit. The university soon acquired two large stones from the foundation of the White House. The unique keepsakes were made possible by the fact that the White House was undergoing extensive renovations.

Daniel expanded on the need for those renovations during his speech.

“In 1948, the White House was falling apart,” he said. “They found out that the White House was completely rotten on the inside.”

He paused.

“That’s literally, not figuratively,” he told the laughing crowd.

The stones have been in storage for decades, but now, in honor of the university’s 80th anniversary, one stone will reside on the Volker Campus, and the other will go to the Hospital Hill campus.

“Today, we put the capstone on our 80th anniversary with another Truman,” Vaught said.

 Photo credit: Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications. 

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