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Drury University confers more than 500 degrees during spring commencements

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., May 11, 201 Drury University awarded degrees to 513 graduates at its spring commencement ceremonies on Friday and Saturday. There were 279 degrees conferred during the ceremony for the College of Continuing Professional Studies and the College of Graduate Studies on Friday evening, and 234 degrees conferred during the traditional residential college undergraduate ceremony on Saturday.

“We all leave a legacy”

Cheryl Brown Henderson addressed the graduates at today’s ceremony. Henderson is the daughter of the late Rev. Oliver L. Brown. A civil rights leader and pastor, Brown is best known as the namesake of the monumental 1954 Supreme Court case that ended legal racial segregation in American schools, Brown et al. vs. Board of Education. He pastored Benton Avenue A.M.E. Church, now a part of the Drury campus, from 1959 until his passing in 1961. 

Henderson said she could not have imagined giving the commencement address at Drury when she was an 8-year-old girl walking across the campus from her family’s home by the Benton Avenue Church to Boyd Elementary School. One cannot predict the path a life will take, she told the graduates, but she urged them to use their education as a springboard to change the world around them. Her father and his family were ordinary people who were able to play just such a role by being engaged as citizens and activists.

“Being a United States citizen is not a spectator sport,” she said. “We all need to be engaged, very actively engaged, to move our country forward.”

Doing so takes courage, she said.

“Be prepared to be courageous, be bold, be fearless and, most of all, be the kind of citizen who will make this a more perfect union.” 

An honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree was posthumously awarded to Oliver Brown during the ceremony. An honorary degree is a recognition of a body of work, his daughter said, but also “an understanding that we all leave a legacy. Everyone in this room – regardless of your profession or station in life – we all leave a legacy.”

“A place of hope”

Benjamin Anderson addressed the graduates during Friday’s ceremony. Anderson is CEO of Kearny County Hospital in western Kansas. A 2004 Drury graduate, Anderson is a recognized leader in transforming rural health care through a missional approach to recruiting physicians to underserved areas. Kearny County Hospital is at the forefront of innovations to improve healthcare delivery to underserved rural and immigrant populations.   

Anderson spoke movingly of his alma mater as a “a place of hope” for a young man growing up in an impoverished family led by a working single mother. His academics took a hit after his parents divorced, he said, and he had been rejected by a number of colleges. Drury took a chance on him, he said. He personally thanked a lengthy list of faculty and staff members who helped shape him and said it has become his mission to pass on that sense of hope to others, especially those his hospital now serves.

“You didn’t get here alone. Other people helped you along the way,” he said. “Will you now leverage your knowledge, gifts, talents, and networks to lift others up? Now that you’ve reached this high place, will you send the elevator down to help others reach it as well?”

Anderson told the graduates it is up to them to “set crooked ways straight” sooner rather than later. “As we say in western Kansas, ‘Let’s get after it.’”

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