Charles J. McClain to Offer May Commencement Speech

The May Commencement Ceremony at Truman State University will also be a homecoming of sorts as long-time president, and architect of the school’s liberal arts mission, Charles J. McClain will return to address the graduates and receive an honorary degree.

McClain has been called a higher-education legend in the state of Missouri. His presidency spanned nearly 20 years, from 1970 to 1989, and his vision and leadership helped the school refocus its mission, transforming it into Missouri’s only highly selective, public liberal arts and sciences university.

While president, McClain established a value-added program to track the strengths and weaknesses of Truman students. As a result of his leadership, the University received national recognition for its academic excellence and assessment programs, including the G. Theodore Mitau Award for Innovation and Change in Higher Education, the highest award from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The University was also ranked one of the five most innovative colleges and universities in the country in a U.S. News & World Report survey of college and university presidents.  

While his accomplishments related to Truman alone are impressive, what McClain achieved as an educator away from the University is just as remarkable.

His career began at the age of 16 when he accepted a teaching position in a one-room school near Sullivan, Mo. In 1963, he founded Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Mo., where he served as president for seven years. McClain has also occupied various roles in education in the capacity of assistant professor, school superintendent, elementary school principal and elementary teacher, as well as assistant professor and assistant dean for the College of Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

In 1989, McClain was selected by the Coordinating Board for Higher Education to serve as Missouri’s commissioner of higher education, and he later worked as a consultant for the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo. In 2003, McClain received the Des Lee Distinguished Professorship at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The following year, he was selected as a member of the Missouri Academy of Squires, an organization limited to 100 Missourians of achievement.

If that were not enough, in 2008, at the age of 77, McClain became the interim president of Fairmont State University in West Virginia.

Over the years, McClain has remained a strong supporter of Truman. In the year following his retirement, the University’s administrative building was re-named in his honor. In 1999 he initiated a matching gift campaign to raise funds for the Pershing Scholarship program at Truman. Initiated under his presidency, the Pershing Scholarship is the most prestigious scholarship awarded to incoming freshmen, providing tuition and room and board, as well as a $4,000 stipend for study abroad.

McClain earned his undergraduate degree from Missouri State University in 1954 and his advanced degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia. His achievements have been recognized by both his undergraduate and graduate universities by his designation as a distinguished alumnus and his membership in Phi Beta Kappa.

He and his wife, Judge Ann Covington, reside in Columbia, Mo. McClain’s two daughters, Anita and Melanie, are both Truman graduates.

In addition to delivering the commencement address, McClain will be honored with a Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

The Truman State University Board of Governors voted in 2009 to award honorary degrees to recognize individuals for outstanding achievement in a field and demonstrated commitment to the University’s mission and values.

McClain is among the first honorary degree recipients, both for his lifelong commitment to education and for his crucial role in transforming the University into the state’s only public liberal arts and sciences university.

Truman’s Commencement Ceremony will take place at 2 p.m., May 8 at Stokes Stadium. In the event of rain, ceremonies will be moved to Pershing Arena. For more information, call 785.4105.
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