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More than 5,400 graduates to receive degrees from Mizzou

University officials will award honorary degrees to anti-apartheid leader Albert “Albie” Sachs and humanitarian Melvin E. West

May 13th, 2019

Story Contact: Liz McCune, 573-882-6212,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – During the weekend of May 17-19, approximately 5,411 students will receive degrees during spring commencement ceremonies at the University of Missouri. University officials also will honor Justice Albert “Albie” Sachs, anti-apartheid leader and judicial activist, and Rev. Melvin E. West, humanitarian and founder of Personal Energy Transportation.

“Commencement weekend is a time to celebrate the hard work and accomplishments of all our graduates,” Chancellor Alexander Cartwright said. “The University of Missouri family is proud of their achievements and confident that they will continue to be successful after graduation as members of the Mizzou Alumni Association.”

The career outlook for Mizzou graduates is bright. A recent survey shows that 92 percent of MU graduates have found successful career outcomes, including whether they are involved in public service, in the military or are continuing their education. MU’s career outcomes rate ranks well above the average of Mizzou’s peer groups.

“The results of this survey indicate that Mizzou graduates are prepared to be successful in a competitive global job market,” said Latha Ramchand, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “Thanks to the rigor and relevance of our curriculum, and the experiential learning focus that is embraced by our faculty, Mizzou graduates bring skills they can put to use on their first day on the job.”

During commencement weekend, MU will award 5,982 degrees, including 4,415 bachelor’s degrees, 948 master’s degrees, 248 doctorates, 86 law degrees, 109 veterinary medicine degrees, 95 medicine degrees, 58 professional degrees and 23 education specialist degrees. Some students will receive more than one degree. More than 600 online students, who come from 46 states and five countries, also will graduate

Each school and college at MU holds separate ceremonies for commencement, and many invite notable speakers to address the graduates. Speakers at this year’s commencement ceremonies include:

  • Mike Parson, who has led the state of Missouri for nearly a year, will speak at the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources ceremony on Saturday, May 18.
  • Timothy Kaine, representing Virginia in the U.S. Senate, former vice presidential candidate and MU alumnus, will speak at the College of Arts and Science ceremony on Sunday, May 19.
  • Elise Hu, correspondent, video host based at NPR West in Culver City, California, and MU alumna, will speak at the School of Journalism ceremony on Friday, May 17.
  • Kam Phillips, chief executive dreamer of Dream Outside the Box, a nonprofit that exposes children to new careers and extracurricular activities, and MU alumna, will speak at the College of Human Environmental Sciences/School of Social Work ceremony on Saturday, May 18.

Both honorary degree recipients will speak at the Honors Convocation on Saturday, and Sachs is the featured speaker at Sunday’s School of Law ceremony.

Among Sachs’ nominators was Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor who noted that the South African luminary “has influenced legal thinking worldwide and given the concept of justice a more human face.”

West, an MU alumnus, received a recommendation from former President Jimmy Carter who described West as a “tireless global servant for more than 70 years.” Carter highlighted West’s work in distributing hand-cranked mobility carts “to enable God’s children to go where ordinary wheelchairs won’t go.” 

Note: A detailed schedule of events and biographical information of the honorary degree recipients Albert “Albie” Sachs Melvin E. West are attached.

For more information on the commencement ceremonies and Columbia accommodations, please visit:

MU Spring Commencement 2019
Schedule of Events

            Note: Students in the School of Social Work will participate in the College of Human Environmental Sciences ceremony.

 Friday, May 17

Graduate School (hooding ceremony for doctoral candidates)
1 p.m.
Hearnes Center
Speaker: Latha Ramchand, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, and Alyssa Bish, MU’s doctoral marshal who is receiving a doctoral degree in communication

College of Veterinary Medicine
2 p.m.
Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall
Speaker: Elizabeth “Betsy” Charles, executive director of The Veterinary Leadership Institute

Graduate School (master’s and education specialists)
3:30 p.m.
Hearnes Center
Speaker: Latha Ramchand, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs

School of Journalism
6 p.m.
Mizzou Arena
Speaker: Elise Hu, correspondent and reporter for NPR

Sinclair School of Nursing
7 p.m.
Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall
Speaker: Select professor and students from the Sinclair School of Nursing

College of Education
8 p.m.
Hearnes Center
Kathaleen Banks, former vice president of continuous improvement and leadership development for ArvinMeritor, Inc.

Saturday, May 18

Honors Convocation
8:30 a.m.
Mizzou Arena
Speaker: Honorary degree recipients Justice Albert “Albie” Sachs, anti-apartheid leader and judicial activist; and Rev. Melvin E. West, humanitarian and founder of Personal Energy Transportation

College of Human Environmental Sciences/School of Social Work
12:30 p.m.
Hearnes Center
Speaker: Kam Phillips, chief executive dreamer of Dream Outside the Box, a nonprofit that exposes children to new careers and extracurricular activities

School of Medicine
3 p.m.
Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall
Speaker: Joel Shenker, associate professor of clinical neurology at the MU School of Medicine

College of Engineering
4 p.m.
Mizzou Arena
Speaker: Craig Lalumandier, vice president of information technology at Charter Communications

College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources
7:30 p.m.
Hearnes Center
Speaker: Missouri Gov. Mike Parson

Sunday, May 19

Trulaske College of Business
11 a.m.
Hearnes Center
Speaker: David Herzog, CFO of AIG (American International Group, Inc.)

School of Law
12:30 p.m.
Jesse Auditorium, Jesse Hall
Speaker: Justice Albert “Albie” Louis Sachs, a former member of the South African Constitutional Court and the primary drafter of the South African Constitution

 College of Arts and Science
2:30 p.m.
Mizzou Arena
Speaker: Sen. Timothy Michael Kaine of Virginia

School of Health Professions
5:30 p.m.
Hearnes Center
Speaker: Keith E. Evans, CEO and director of Atlanta Human Performance Center

Albert “Albie” Sachs Biography

Albie Sachs is a hero of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, dedicating his life to racial equality and constitutional democracy. As a lawyer, he devoted his practice to defending those charged under racist statutes and oppressive laws. As a judge appointed by Nelson Mandela, he was involved in several landmark rulings.

While enrolled in law school at the University of Cape Town, he joined students protesting against apartheid, which was a policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in South Africa. Sachs became a civil rights attorney and activist. As a result of his work, he was arrested, imprisoned and placed in solitary confinement for 168 days without trial. His jail diary was converted into a play for the Royal Shakespeare Company and broadcast by the BBC.

In 1966, Sachs went into exile. After completing a doctoral degree at Sussex University in England, he moved to Mozambique and taught law at a university in the capital city of Maputo. In 1988, a bomb that was placed in Sachs’ car by South African security agents exploded, causing him to lose an arm and sight in one eye.

During his recovery, Sachs wrote a powerful memoir, The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter. In the book, Sachs pledged that he would seek vengeance for his suffering by helping to establish a democratic South Africa, where the rule of law protects the rights of all citizens — even those who tried to kill him. The book won him wide acclaim. In South Africa, he has received the Alan Paton Award twice for non-fiction writing.

In 1990, Sachs returned home to South Africa as apartheid began to crumble amidst growing pressure and divestment from the international community. As a member of the Constitutional Committee of the African National Congress, Sachs played an active role in the negotiations that led to South Africa becoming a constitutional democracy. After the first democratic election in 1994, President Nelson Mandela appointed Sachs to serve on the newly established constitutional court.

As a judge, Sachs was involved in a number of significant rulings, including the declaration of capital punishment as a violation of the right to life, the right to marry regardless of sexual orientation and the insistence that the government had a duty to provide HIV-positive pregnant women with drugs to reduce the risk of transmission to their newborn babies. In 2014, Sachs was awarded a Tang Prize in the Rule of Law category due to his many contributions to human rights and justice globally.

Sachs is a longstanding friend of the University of Missouri and has met with MU students participating in exchange programs at the University of Western Cape. Sachs has visited MU to share his personal story and give lectures on human rights and constitutional law. Sachs also worked closely with members of the University of the Western Cape Community Law Centre in drafting the post-apartheid South African constitution.

In spite of imprisonment, exile and extreme injury, Sachs asserts and protects civil rights for all by emphasizing the necessity for reconciliation as opposed to retribution. Sachs currently lives with his family in Cape Town, South Africa.

Melvin E. West Biography

Melvin E. West has a passion to serve others, no matter if they are close to home or across the globe. Throughout his career and retirement, he has developed service-oriented church programs, assisted developing countries suffering from hunger, and constructed homes for those needing shelter. As he approaches his 95th birthday, his dedication to service is going strong.

West’s life of service began in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II when he served as a second lieutenant from 1942 to 1946. He also was a commissioned officer in the anti-aircraft battalion in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

When West returned to the Midwest to study at the University of Missouri, he completed his bachelor of science degree in dairy husbandry in the College of Agriculture. He taught in the Veteran’s Agriculture Program in 1947 before beginning a career in dairy farming with his wife, Barbara, in Carthage, Missouri. The operation lasted for 10 years, and in 1955 it was selected by MU Extension’s “Balanced Farming Days,” which brought nearly 6,000 people to the farm to learn about conserving the environment while maintaining farm operations.

West served as a pastor of five local churches during this time. He decided to devote himself to ministry by obtaining both a bachelor of arts degree in divinity and a master of arts degree in sacred theology from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

After graduating, West began directing the Missouri Office of Creative Ministries in 1965, working with 1,260 Methodist churches to help them serve those in need in their communities. He introduced many new programs while he served as director for 20 years, including Youth Work Camps, a program that mobilized church youth groups to repair housing for older individuals who were economically disadvantaged. West would often serve right alongside the youth.

West retired from the Missouri Office of Creative Ministries in 1985 and served as president of the U.S. chapter of Alfalit in the same year, training missionaries and other aid workers in Spanish. He was also a board member on both the international board of Heifer International and the international board of Educational Concerns for Hunger, organizations devoted to educating people on how to end world hunger through sustainable agriculture. In 1987, West raised $70,000 for the Habitat for Humanity Chapters in Costa Rica when he completed a 1,000 mile walk in 50 days from Americus, Georgia, to Kansas City, Missouri.

West has also founded many initiatives of his own, including Personal Energy Transportation, an organization that constructs and provides hand-crank mobility chairs and scooters to over 70 million people worldwide who cannot walk. PET now operates in 104 countries, a large expansion from its humble beginnings in West’s garage.

West continues to fulfill his mission of serving those in need by assisting with Habitat for Humanity building projects and contributing to the Columbia South Rotary Club.

West also writes a daily, globally-accessible blog and is authoring memoirs of his life so that his experiences can encourage others. He currently lives in Columbia with his wife, Barbara West.