Student veteran Miron Clay-Gilmore plans to pursue PhD in philosophy after completing degree at UMSL

Miron Clay-Gilmore

Marine Corps veteran Miron Clay-Gilmore found a home in UMSL’s Veterans Center while working toward his degree in philosophy. Clay-Gilmore graduated on Saturday. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Miron Clay-Gilmore took a notable step toward his future on Saturday as he walked across the stage at the Mark Twain Athletic Center and accepted his diploma for his BA in philosophy from the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

He appears to have made a lasting impression on the professors he’s leaving behind.

“He’s an exceptionally impressive young man,” said Jon McGinnis, who chairs the Department of Philosophy and taught Clay-Gilmore in one of the first courses – Early Modern Philosophy – he took at UMSL.

“He’s an extremely well-read and diligent worker,” said Assistant Professor Billy Dunaway, who oversaw Clay-Gilmore’s work for an independent study course exploring the history of black-nationalist political thought during his junior year.

For the five years he’s been chair, McGinnis has solicited nominations from his colleagues for the department’s undergraduate and graduate students of the year. He said everyone who made a nomination for this year’s undergraduate winner did so for Clay-Gilmore.

“I think everyone in the department who’s talked to him has learned a lot from him,” Dunaway said.

Clay-Gilmore is similarly complementary of UMSL faculty members for helping cultivate his thinking since enrolling at the university in the fall of 2016.

That’s particularly true of that independent study course that spilled over into the summer.

“Professor Dunaway really allowed me to be involved in a way that I hadn’t been in other courses,” Clay-Gilmore said. “It ended up going way offline, and just having him there and up front and courteous and open – there’s no way I would have the writing sample that I have now without that.”

Clay-Gilmore came to UMSL about a year after separating from the United States Marine Corps, where he served four years. For more than half of that, he was stationed in the Florida Panhandle, where he worked in an administrative role, aiding in the training of Marine Corps pilots, helicopter staff, parachuters and divers.

He’d taken a few classes at Pensacola Community College while working in nearby Milton during his return to civilian life. Ultimately, he and his wife, Lauren, decided to move back to his hometown so he could enroll in college full time.

Clay-Gilmore felt himself pulled toward philosophy by a logic course he took at Pensacola and liked what he’d learned about the philosophy department at UMSL. He also received a veterans nonresident waiver that helped make tuition more affordable.

He’d always been a deep thinker, eager to explore weighty topics even as a high school student at Hazelwood Central in north St. Louis County. Often that was at the expense of the subjects on which he was being tested.

“I wasn’t much of a scholar in high school,” Clay-Gilmore said. “All the things I was interested in, none of them were on the curriculum. I was looking up ancient African history, but I was supposed to be doing something else. Anytime they put me in front of a computer, I had other tabs open.”

History, astrophysics, psychology, evolutionary biology – those are just some of the subjects he explored on his own, continuing beyond high school.

“Philosophy helps accommodate all those funky interests,” Clay-Gilmore said.

He made a conscious choice to pursue military service before honing in on academic pursuits.

“There was just something about them,” he said of the recruiters he encountered at Hazelwood Central. “I wanted to talk to them. We talked about potential interests and skills and all these different things, and I really didn’t have any plans at all.

“I knew I could do more, and I wanted to try to challenge myself in different ways.”

Clay-Gilmore didn’t grow up in a military family and said the experience was “really out of my arena.” He had never hiked or shot a weapon before, and he didn’t consider himself an athlete.

He chose the Marine Corps because it seemed like the biggest feat.

“I had talked to all the branches beforehand, and the Marine recruiters, they were different in a way that was good to me,” he said. “I wanted to have that kind of distinction.”

Clay-Gilmore’s been able to meet others who’ve had similar experiences to his through UMSL’s Veterans Center.

“I was really kind of bottled up and nervous about blending in,” said Clay-Gilmore, a nontraditional student who’s not only married but has two kids. “I would come in here to just relax. There’s always nice people here, and a lot of people in similar situations and in other majors, so I didn’t have to talk to all philosophy majors. I could talk to an engineer. I could talk about abstract mathematics with the math tutor, just different things like that.”

The past two years, he’s worked there as a veteran student coordinator, certifying education benefits and making sure other student veterans are aware of all the resources available to them at UMSL.

Clay-Gilmore’s experiences in the Marines helped make him a focused scholar. McGinnis noted that he’s unafraid to ask questions and get answers to anything on his mind.

He began to think about the notion of black nationalism after reading the autobiography of Malcolm X in 12th grade.

He’s examined it in much greater depth, drawing on philosophers such as Martin Delany, Marcus Garvey, Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral and especially Walter Rodney during his undergraduate studies. Much of his work has been thinking through a long-standing scholarly debate between assimilationists and black nationalists about the best way to deal with racial issues and accommodate the needs of people whose ancestors were brought here from Africa as slaves.

Clay-Gilmore is hoping to continue those efforts as he pursues a PhD in philosophy or perhaps Africana Studies. He’s applying to schools such as Cornell University, the University of Michigan, Northwestern University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“It’ll be a miscarriage of justice if he doesn’t get into one of the top schools,” McGinnis said.

For now, Clay-Gilmore is merely happy to have reached the end of his undergraduate studies and is grateful to his wife for getting him to Saturday’s stage.

“It’s her degree more than mine at this point,” he said. “There’s no way I would’ve been able to do any of this, especially the senior thesis, without her being there and encouraging me to continue on.”

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