UMSL awards honorary degree to UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski

Freeman Hrabowski honorary degree

UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski (center) stands with UMSL Chancellor Tom George (left) and Provost Kristin Sobolik after receiving an honorary degree at the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration on Jan. 15. (Photos by August Jennewein)

The Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration is an annual highlight event at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, and the 2018 edition was true to its tradition of excellence.

More than 1,000 people were inspired by the stories of students receiving UMSL scholarships based on their essays about the importance of diversity and inclusion as well uplifting music performed by students, faculty and volunteers.

Different in 2018 was the awarding of an honorary degree to the program’s featured speaker, University of Maryland, Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski.

Freeman Hrabowski

UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski delivers a stirring speech during the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration on Jan. 15 at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center.

“It has been traditional in years past, when we reach this point in the program, for me to introduce the speaker,” UMSL Chancellor Tom George told the audience. “Well, this isn’t a traditional year, and Dr. Freeman Hrabowski is not an ordinary speaker.

“An early member of the Civil Rights Movement, Freeman was 12 years old when he walked with Martin Luther King Jr. to push for equal treatment under the law and throughout every other facet of American society,” George said. “He also has been a pioneer in broadening access to higher education – particularly science education – to under-represented populations. For this, and many other reasons, UMSL is undertaking today the extra-ordinary activity of also presenting Freeman with an honorary doctoral degree in humane letters – an award that typically is reserved only for commencement ceremonies.”

UMSL Provost Kristin Sobolik, who assisted in the hooding ceremony, said, “The University of Maryland at Baltimore County is noted nationally for producing a high percentage of minority graduates in the STEM fields … science, technology, engineering and math. UMBC was not so distinguished when Dr. Hrabowski assumed its presidency in 1992.

“Dr. Hrabowski applied what he had learned through years of research and focusing on science and math education, with special emphasis on minority participation and performance,” she said. “The results have benefited students at UMBC and elsewhere as Dr. Hrabowski’s methods have been replicated at other universities and have become national policy.”

The UMSL faculty, Sobolik said, were equally impressed with Hrabowski’s efforts as a child and adult to push for social equity and advocate for increased access and commitment to use education as a pathway to a different and better life.

The UMSL Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion sponsored the annual MLK day celebration. It was held in the Anheuser-Busch Theater of the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center.

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