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U.S. Ambassador Speaks at Mid-Year Commencement

UMKC graduate Allan Katz is awarded honorary degree

As Allan Katz gazed at the crowd in front of him, he shook his head in pleased disbelief.

Hundreds of students – a sea of black gowns and mortarboards – walked to their designated seats as the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Portugal took in the sight. When Katz graduated from UMKC in 1969, the graduates, along with the hundreds of people who came out to cheer them on, looked a lot different than today’s crowd.

Perhaps more accurately, the 1969 crowd had all looked very much the same. Katz graduated in an almost entirely white class. He had no professors of color. Men dominated nearly every leadership position.

But a lot can change in four decades. The University of Missouri-Kansas City is proof of that.

“In this auditorium today, I see a wide swath of Americans. All walks of life,” Katz said. “As I look around at the diversity of students here, I’m struck by how far we’ve come, both as a university and as a nation.”

It’s a scope of change that, even as a lifelong champion of social justice, Katz never would have anticipated. Just four decades ago, Katz never would have imagined that he would live to see America elect an African American president or an openly gay senator.

As he made the observation, Katz turned to Chancellor Leo Morton, who nodded. Katz said he also never imagined a day when UMKC would have an African American chancellor.

Greater access to opportunities is, of course, a cause for celebration and reflection. Katz asked the students – particularly those who, like himself, are first-generation Americans or the first in their families to graduate college – to think about the people who made this day possible.

Many of those people were in the crowded room, proudly snapping photos of their sons or daughters, waving to their grandchildren, or carefully clutching the Mid-Year Commencement program – today a program, tomorrow a keepsake.

“It is on their shoulders you are standing today,” Katz said, gesturing to the rows of supporters. “Very few of us got here on our own. As graduates, you have been blessed by the dedication and sacrifice of family and friends.”

It was a message that seemed to resonate.

Jim Richardson stood near the back of the room, proud to watch his son, Jim Richardson Jr., graduate with an MBA. It’s the highest degree anyone in Richardson’s family has achieved. Ten of them came to the event to celebrate the occasion.

“I’m just real proud of him. I hope that my other three children who are going to college do as well as he has,” Richardson said.

Richardson wasn’t the only one feeling proud. As graduates’ names were read aloud, there were occasional cheers, shouts, and even a “that’s my brother!”

Outside of Swinney Recreation Center, a group of employees from UMKC’s Registration and Records office held homemade congratulations signs. Their work-study student, Phuong Mai, has been with them for three years. They wanted to show him how much they appreciated him.

Katz spoke at both of UMKC’s graduation ceremonies – one for multiple schools, and one for the College of Arts and Sciences. At the latter ceremony, he was presented with an honorary doctorate recognizing his many civic contributions and achievements.

Then, it was time for the graduates to receive their degrees. As they moved their tassels from one side to the other, the graduates prepared for their next steps.

“Congratulations on your important achievement. Now go out and change the world,” Katz said.

Photo Credit: Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

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