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Columbia Community Leader to Receive Honorary Degree

MU will award 2,144 diplomas during December commencement ceremonies.

December 16th, 2009

Story Contact: Christian Basi, 573-882-4430,

 COLUMBIA, Mo. – Beginning his career as an educator in Columbia in 1956, Eliot Battle helped guide Columbia through desegregation and continued to foster diversity and acceptance in the community even after his retirement in 1991. Battle will be honored with an honorary degree from the University of Missouri, one of the highest honors the university bestows, at the Graduate School commencement ceremony on Friday, Dec. 18 as part of the December commencement ceremonies at MU.

Battle began his career at the then all-black Douglass High School. In 1960, he transferred to Hickman High School, becoming the first African-American faculty member of the school.  Battle helped ease the tension of desegregation by mediating between some black families and white educators at Hickman.

 In 1967, Battle established a program to provide an alternative to students unable to attend public high schools due to circumstances such as pregnancies and suspensions. The program was the foundation from which Columbia’s current alternative high school, Douglass High School, was born.

Battle remains dedicated to minority youth as a founding member of the Minority Men’s Network, which helps troubled young black men and as the author of the book “A Letter to Young Black Men,” which was published in 1997.

MU will award 2,144 degrees over the course of the December commencement weekend; 1,445 bachelor’s degrees, 532 masters’ degrees, five professional degrees and 162 doctorate degrees will be awarded.

“As always, we are confident in our graduates’ abilities as they join the ranks of our distinguished alumni who make a difference in every corner of the world,” said Ann Korschgen, vice provost for enrollment at MU.

Notable speakers at this year’s commencement ceremonies include:

  • Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon will speak at the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources ceremony at 3 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 19 in the Hearnes Center.
  • Darwin Hindman, mayor of Columbia, will speak at the School of Natural Resources commencement ceremony at 11:30 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 19 at Jesse Auditorium in Jesse Hall.
  • Gayle Kingery, state representative and House Higher Education chair, R-Poplar Bluff, will speak for the MU online commencement ceremony which can be viewed at

 EDITOR’S NOTE: A detailed schedule of events and biographical information on Battle are attached. For more information on the commencement ceremonies and Columbia accommodations, please visit


Schedule of Events


NOTE: The Schools of Law, Medicine and Health Professions and the Colleges of Veterinary Medicines and Education do not hold December graduation ceremonies. Students from those academic units participate in May ceremonies. Students in the School of Social Work will participate in the College of Human Environmental Sciences ceremony. The School of Natural Resources will hold a separate commencement ceremony from the Colleges of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.


Tuesday, Dec. 15

Online Commencement

Speaker:  Gayle Kingery, state representative and House Higher Education chair, R-Poplar Bluff


Friday, Dec. 18

Sinclair School of Nursing

      1 p.m.

      Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall

      Speaker: Judith Fitzgerald Miller, Dean of the School of Nursing

School of Journalism

       3:30 p.m.

                 Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall

       Speaker: Sallie L. Gaines, senior vice president of media relations for Hill and Knowlton in Chicago, IL.

ROTC Commissioning of Officers

      4 p.m.

      Second Floor Atrium, Crowder Hall

Trulaske College of Business

          4:30 p.m.

          Hearnes Center

          Speaker: Lori Caster, group vice president of Schnucks Markets in St. Louis

College of Human Environmental Sciences

       6 p.m.

       Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall

       Speaker: Stephen Jorgensen, dean of the College of Human Environmental Sciences

Graduate School

       8 p.m.

       Hearnes Center

       Speaker: Elliot Battle, Honorary Degree Recipient


Saturday, Dec. 19

Honors Ceremony

       8:30 a.m.

       Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall

School of Natural Resources

       11:30 a.m.

       Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall

       Speaker: Darwin Hindman, Mayor of Columbia, Mo.

College of Arts and Science

       12:30 p.m.

       Hearnes Center

       Speaker: Professor Mark Palmer, Department of Geography

College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources

       3 p.m.

       Hearnes Center

       Speaker: Jay Nixon, governor, state of Missouri

College of Engineering

       2 p.m.

       Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall

       Speaker: Robert Topping, Retired President and Chief Operating Officer of QinetiQ North America

Honorary Degree Recipient

Eliot Battle

Educator and community leader Eliot Battle has dedicated his life to fostering diversity and encouraging acceptance. As an educator and mentor, Battle put forth extra effort to empower and support Columbia’s youth. As a community leader, he opened the doors of opportunity for African Americans by creating the path toward de-segregation in Columbia in the 1960s. Since then, he has continued to play a large role in supporting minority youth and promoting diversity within the community.

After working as a teacher in Poplar Bluff and as administrator of the Dalton Vocational School in Chariton County, Battle moved to Columbia in 1956 where he began his career as an educator at the then, all-black Douglass High School. In 1960, Battle transferred to Hickman High School as a guidance counselor and became the first African-American faculty member at the school. At Hickman, Battle became the director of pupil personnel services for the district in 1971 until he retired in 1991.

Battle pushed the boundaries of race restrictions within the education system and the community. As one of the few black faculty members at Hickman High School, he helped mediate between white educators and black families who felt uncomfortable in the new education system. In the mid-1960s, Battle, his wife and their children moved into a new home in what was then an all-white neighborhood, beginning integrated housing in Columbia.

In 1967, Battle established the Continuing Education Center Program in the Douglass High School building to provide an alternative for students unable to attend the other public high schools due to pregnancies or suspensions. The program eventually accepted students who chose not to attend the traditional high schools in Columbia. This program was the precursor of what is now Columbia’s alternative high school, Douglass High School.

Battle has continued to be involved in the Columbia community. He has been a valuable member of a large number of committees and boards within the community, including the Board of Trustees at Columbia College. He also served as president of the Missouri Guidance Association. With a master’s degree from the University of Missouri, Battle also has served on many education committees at MU.

Continuing his dedication to minority youth, Battle is a founding member of the Minority Men’s Network, an organization dedicated to helping troubled young black men. He wrote the book, A Letter to Young Black Men, which was published in 1997.

In 2000, Battle and his wife, Muriel, were honored by the city of Columbia as citizens of the year. In 1999, he received Columbia’s Diversity award. In 1995, Battle received the Pioneer in Education award from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  He has been recognized with the Mizzou Alumni Award. 

He and his wife, who passed in 2003, have four grown children.