CASE Celebrates Graduating Scholars in First In-Person Spring Salute to Excellence Ceremony Since 2019

Finally.

The constant sound of laughter echoing off the walls. Students embracing one another. Proudly sharing their post-graduation plans. It was a welcoming sight for the scholars and MU’s Center for Academic Success & Excellence staff.

Due to COVID, for the first time since spring 2019 CASE was able to hold their Salute to Excellence program in-person for their spring graduates. These students are recipients of scholarships CASE manages which include: KC ScholarsBrooks/Suggs ScholarsDiversityAward and Summer Transition. This ceremony is a chance to celebrate the triumphs and successes of CASE’s graduating seniors. The staff at CASE did just that. 

The ceremony took place on April 21, 2022, at Memorial Union in room N214 with nearly 100 scholars in attendance, much larger than the one in Fall ‘21 with a larger graduating class. Scholars entered the event eager and elegantly dressed to commemorate their college journeys as they near the finish line. As they filled their seats, a looped slideshow presentation projected each scholar’s name, photo and post-graduation plans. With family and friends joining via Zoom, CASE scholars and staff kicked off the ceremony with a special toast and welcome remarks from CASE Director Dr. Andre Thorn.

“The research says that one of the ways underrepresented and underserved minority students feel valued on a predominately white campus is that you recognize them,” Dr. Thorn said. “All of the time it takes to go through this program is about feeding you and hearing from you as a student. This program is markedly different than most recognition kinds of programs on this campus.”

Following the toast, dinner was served shortly after. Scholars and attendees ate and congregated in fellowship. After dinner, graduating CASE scholar and student keynote speaker Katelynn McIlwain encouraged fellow classmates in her speech to “dream big” as they succeed in their post-grad careers. 

“I feel like this is truly an honor,” Diversity scholar Arieanna Boyd said. “Not a lot of us get to go to college or get a scholarship like this. You get to meet people who look like you that are achieving the same things. I feel like this program is very beneficial to the Black community and other minorities because it doesn’t have to be here. But programs like this keep people here in school.”

Boyd will be graduating with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in accounting through the accelerated master’s program. She will be moving to Atlanta, Georgia to work for Ernst & Young in their IT Risk Consulting Department.

Following the keynote speech, CASE administrative assistant Angie Vick then initiated the graduate recognition ceremony. Vick highlighted the rich history of the Kente cloth stoles – a red, black, and green cloth that symbolizes success and achievement. Each scholar had the opportunity to publicly introduce themselves, share their post-grad plans and show appreciation to the CASE family and staff. Finally, each scholar was bestowed with a graduation Kente stole by Dr. Thorn and Student Service Coordinator Ana-Maria Fernandez and given a personalized scholar recognition certificate. 

Curtis Brady, a Diversity Award scholar who’s receiving double degrees in international affairs and business administration, shared how the intimacy of the Salute to Excellence ceremony makes the celebration more special. 

“A lot of time when it comes to the big graduations – yes, everybody’s graduating – but you still kind of feel like a number,” Brady said. “Being here, having everyone have the opportunity to talk, everyone having the opportunity to voice what they’re doing and how CASE has impacted them is just very special.”

Brooks scholar and CASE marketing intern Lauren Purdy also shared her feelings about CASE. 

“What I will miss most is the support from the CASE family, but I know that I can still get their support, wherever I’m at,” Purdy said. “Just physically being here and just being able to walk into the office or just you know, call anybody if I need help with anything. That close-knit support. I will miss that.” 

Purdy will be graduating with a Bachelor’s of Journalism degree with an emphasis in strategic communication. Starting in June, she will be working as a digital marketing intern with the Baltimore Ravens 

After hearing from all the graduating scholars, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies, Jim Spain, gave scholars an inspiring speech about continuing the Mizzou legacy as soon-to-be alumni. 

“The Alumni Association is a social capital for you. Take advantage of that,” Spain said. “They are a part of your family and they’re excited to help you.”

Dr. Thorn then delivered the closing remarks for the ceremony. He encouraged the Class of 2022 to enjoy their final moments of being all together as CASE scholars. Scholars then gathered for a group photo to conclude the celebratory night. 

“COVID helped bring this home for me,” Thorn stated in an interview. “I think about a lot of people that have lost people in the past two, three years. When you think about the impactful experience that we witnessed tonight, where folks are on an emotional high, they’re just completing one of the most significant accomplishments in their young lives, I mean, you got to feel that moment. You got to bask in it a little bit. Understand that ‘wow, my life is about to fundamentally change from this moment forward.’”