Rev. Mel West – Mizzou Commencement Speech May 2019


– I would now like to introduce our second honorary degree recipient,
Reverend Mel West. Like Justice Sachs,
Reverend West has a passion to serve others and break
down barriers to success here in his home town
of Columbia and abroad. Throughout his career, he has developed service-oriented church programs, assisted developing countries
suffering from hunger, and constructed homes for
those needing shelter. And as he approaches his 95th birthday, his commitment to the public
good is as strong as ever. Reverend West’s life of service began in the U.S. Marine Corps. During World War II he served as second lieutenant from 1942 to 1946 and he was also a commissioned officer in the anti-aircraft battalion in Jacksonville, North Carolina. After Reverend West
returned to the Midwest, he completed his bachelor’s
degree in dairy husbandry at MU. He taught in the Veterans’
Agriculture Program in 1947 before taking up
a dairy farming career with his wife, Barbara,
in Carthage, Missouri. That operation lasted 10 years. In 1955 it was selected
by MU’s Extension’s Balanced Farming Days which
brought nearly 6000 people to the West farm to learn how to balance environmental conservation
with farming operations. During this time,
Reverend West also served as a pastor of five local churches. That service later
transitioned into a career. He devoted himself to ministry and went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in divinity and a master’s degree in sacred theology from Southern Methodist
University in Dallas. In 1965, Reverend West began directing the Missouri Office of
Creative Ministries, where he worked with more
than 1200 Methodist churches to serve communities in need. Through his 20 years as director, Reverend West implemented
many new programs such as Youth Work Camps,
a program that mobilized church youth groups to
repair housing for older, economically disadvantaged individuals. He retired from the Missouri Office of Creative Ministries in 1985. That same year he became president of the US Chapter of
Alpha Lee International, 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
teaching people how to end world hunger through
sustainable agriculture. In 1987 Reverend West raised $70,000 for the Habitat for Humanity
chapters in Costa Rica, and he completed a one
thousand mile walk in 50 days. From America’s Georgia, to Kansas City, to be able to raise that money. He also founded many
initiatives of his own, including Personal Energy
Transportation, or pet, an organization that
constructs and provides hand-crank mobility chairs and scooters to over 70 million people
world-wide in 104 countries. Clearly, Reverend West is committed to finding ways that citizens from many different communities
and many different backgrounds can succeed at the highest level. He shares our passion for building excellence through opportunity. And he continues to fulfill his mission by assisting with Habitat for Humanity, contributing to the
Columbia South Rotary club, and writing a daily,
globally accessible blog. He is even authoring memoirs of his life so that his experiences can
encourage and inspire others. Reverend West, would you
please join me at the podium. (enthusiastic applause) We are honored to have
such an accomplished individual here with us this morning, and we are proud to have you as part of the Mizzou family. Now, by the virtue of the
authority vested in me by the Board of Curators of
the University of Missouri, I hereby confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane
Letters, honoris causa, and admit you to all
the rights, privileges, and responsibilities thereunto pertaining. – Thank you. (enthusiastic applause) Wow (laughs) I had a moment of deja
vu when I walked in here, and saw all of you students, graduates. 72 years ago, my wife Barbara and I sat where you sat. And we have had such a wonderful, satisfying, and productive life that I would be amiss if I did not share with you very briefly something that has meant a lot to us, and those are the simple quotes of the wise people of history. So let me share them, and I think they’ll be helpful. John Wesley, a hero of mine, said, “Do all the good you can, “wherever you can, whenever you can, “however you can, with whomever you can, “with whatever you can,
in any way you can, “as long as you both shall live.” Even if it’s 95 years. He wrote, “To have a successful life, “work hard making all you can, “as long as you don’t
hurt people, be honest. “Secondly, live thriftily, “and save all you can. “And thirdly,” he said, “give generously “to those less fortunate.” A man named Tagore wrote
something that I like. He said, “I slept and
dreamed that life was joy. “I awoke and found that life is service. “I acted and behold, service was joy.” Gandhi wrote the Seven Deadly Sins. “Politics without principles. “Wealth without work. “Commerce without morality. “Pleasure without conscience. “Education without character. “Science without humanity.” and, “Worship without sacrifice.” Now to be true to my Rotary
brothers and sisters, I must add one that I
think this is brilliant. Is it the truth? Use these four to test everything you do, and every letter you write. I wish I had, always. Is it the truth? Is it
fair to all concerned? Is it beneficial to all concerned? And will it build goodwill and fellowship? And then here’s a rough
one, here’s a hard one. “If we give only that
which we do not need,” said Mother Teresa, “we’ve done nothing.” Think about it. And then, one that’s always
been important to me, love neighbor as self, do unto others as you would
have them do unto you. We have found those to be helpful. I think they are keys. Tuck them in your memory, and live them. I love all youth. The younger generation, I think, is a great one. We were called the Great Generation, make yours greater, will you? Thank you. (enthusiastic applause)

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