UMSL to honor more than 1,700 students during spring commencement ceremonies

by | May 8, 2023

Alumni Earl Swift, Gary Morse and Amber Simpson are among the featured speakers during this weekend's six ceremonies.
Black man in graduation cap and gown with medal around neck smiles and gestures toward the camera

Spring commencement ceremonies are set to be held May 12, 13 and 14 with UMSL expected to confer more than 1,700 degrees to spring and summer graduates. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The University of Missouri–St. Louis will confer more than 1,700 degrees as it celebrates spring and summer graduates during six commencement ceremonies May 12, 13 and 14.

“I know that I speak for everyone at UMSL when I say we could not be happier to share in this celebration with you and your families,” Chancellor Kristin Sobolik wrote in a letter to students. “Please know that everything you’ve overcome, worked for, and through has not gone unnoticed. As we recognize your achievements, know that we are in awe of each of our graduates, and we are all honored to celebrate the conferral of your degree.”

The university will begin commencement weekend with a ceremony for the College of Optometry at 2 p.m. Friday at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. Dr. Jennifer Coyle, president of Pacific University, will deliver the address.

Dr. Jennifer Coyle

Coyle became the 18th president in Pacific University’s 173-year history in July 2022 and is the first alumna to lead Pacific in that role. She earned her bachelor’s degree in vision science in 1990, Doctor of Optometry in 1993, and Master of Science in Vision Science in 2000, all from Pacific. In 1994, she began teaching in the College of Optometry. She then served as associate dean from 2006 to 2008 and as dean for 12 years, from 2008 to 2019. At Pacific, Coyle was instrumental in creating the Interprofessional Diabetes Clinic — a partnership between the Colleges of Optometry and Health Professions — as well as establishing the PhD program in vision science. In addition to work at Pacific, she is also a diplomate of the American Board of Optometry, was named one of Vision Monday’s 50 Most Influential Women in Optical in 2006, received the 2010 Clarence G. Carkner Oregon Optometrist of the Year award and the Women in Optometry Theia Award for Excellence in Education in 2018.

All other commencement ceremonies will be held in the Mark Twain Athletic Center.

Graduates in the College of Arts and Sciences will be honored during two ceremonies on Saturday. The first ceremony at 9 a.m. will celebrate graduates of arts, humanities, mathematics and sciences. Author Earl Swift will deliver the address.

Earl Swift

Swift, who earned a Bachelor of Arts from UMSL in 1983 and began his career as a writer at The Current, is the author of eight critically acclaimed books and hundreds of major features for newspapers and magazines. While chasing stories over his 40-year career, he lived on a remote island for 14 months, camped for weeks in the Laotian jungle, excavated a crashed World War II bomber in Papua New Guinea, made numerous tailhook landings on aircraft carriers and waded alongside 6-foot catfish in the sewers of St. Louis. Swift also through-hiked the Appalachian Trail, circumnavigated the Chesapeake Bay by sea kayak, and survived close encounters with bears, rattlesnakes, scorpions, stingrays, venomous centipedes and Pentagon bureaucrats. He was a Fulbright fellow to New Zealand in 1994 and has been a Virginia Humanities fellow at the University of Virginia since 2012.

The second ceremony at 2 p.m. will recognize graduates in interdisciplinary studies, liberal students and social sciences. Gary Morse, former vice president of Places for People, will deliver the address.

Gary Morse

Morse, who earned a PhD from UMSL, has served in the mental health field for more than four decades. A major focus of his work has been to develop innovative mental health services for high-need, underserved groups, in addition to creating programs to reduce professional burnout and improve happiness. Morse has also conducted a number of research studies, supported by more than $41 million in competitive grants, and published more than 75 professional articles and literary short stories. He has consulted and trained internationally, and he founded and served as an executive in several community mental health organizations. Currently, he trains and writes in the areas of happiness, burnout prevention, mental health, spirituality and cultural analysis. He is especially interested in the intersection of those topics and ways that individuals can find meaning and live with joy and compassion amid life’s uncertainties and challenges.

The university will also bestow Ilene and Stephen Novack with honorary degrees during the ceremony. The Novacks are both UMSL alumni, who married during their senior year.

Ilene and Stephen Novack

In 1968, Ilene graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in education. Afterward, she taught fifth grade for several years in St. Louis and the Chicago area and has been a dedicated leader in the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago since the mid 1970s, serving on the federation board and as president and campaign vice-president of both the Young Women’s Board and the Women’s Board. In 2008, she was Chicago’s recipient of the National Jewish Women’s Award for Outstanding Leadership in Women’s Philanthropy.

During his time at UMSL, Stephen played on the Tritons basketball team and became passionate about political science. In 1968, he graduated magna cum laude with a degree in political science and then served a year of active duty with the U.S. Army Reserve. Stephen then went on to attend the Northwestern University School of Law, graduating magna cum laude in 1972. He cofounded the Novack and Macey LLP law firm in 1984, instilling values of social responsibility. This spring, the firm merged with Armstrong Teasdale LLP, a large national firm based in St. Louis. In addition to his legal career, Stephen served on the UMSL Chancellor’s Council from 2013 to 2018.

Cheryl D.S. Walker

Saturday’s final ceremony at 7 p.m. will honor graduates of the College of Nursing, School of Social Work and the UMSL/Washington University Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program. Cheryl D.S. Walker, an attorney at Walker Commercial Law Group, LLC, will deliver the address.

Walker earned her Juris Doctorate from Washington University in St. Louis and her electrical engineering degree from Missouri University of Science & Technology. She is motivated by the spirit of kuumba “to do always as much as [she] can, in the way [she] can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than [she] inherited it,” which she demonstrates through law, community, poetry and her love for family and friends. She has served in leadership roles in arts, economic empowerment, ethics and health and well-being. Walker is also a former member and chair of the Missouri Ethics Commission and a former member and chair of the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri.

Graduates of the College of Education and SUCCEED Certificate Program will be honored at 1 p.m. Sunday. Amber Simpson, senior learning and performance consultant at Edward Jones, will give the address.

Amber Simpson

Simpson, who earned a PhD in education leadership and policy studies as well as an MEd and EdS from UMSL, is a results-driven leader with more than 20 years of domestic and international experience across a variety of industries, including: financial services, big box/specialty retail, education resources and customer service. In addition to her current role in the Human Capital Division at Edward Jones, Simpson has previously held leadership roles at the firm in the areas of Business Segmentation, Client Experience and Financial Advisor Talent Acquisition. As a businesswoman, she understands the strong correlation between quality educational options and the social and economic sustainability of communities, and she is passionate about creating pathways to economic wellbeing for those who have been traditionally marginalized by society. Her volunteer service is grounded in bridging educational and socioeconomic gaps through her involvement in an array of education associations, arts organizations and social impact agencies, including the Missouri Charter Public School Association, Opera Theater of St. Louis and Gateway 180.

The final ceremony of the weekend will begin at 6 p.m. on Sunday and will recognize graduates of the College of Business Administration. Brian Salmo, managing director of Hermann Companies, will deliver the address.

Brian Salmo

Salmo earned his BSBA in finance at UMSL and currently serves on the Chancellor’s Council. He began his career as a corporate attorney at the national law firm of Polsinelli PC before becoming an executive at LMI Aerospace, where he held a variety of roles, including general counsel, VP of human resources and a business unit leader over a multi-site manufacturing operation. At Hermann, he focuses on sourcing, underwriting and supporting investments in privately held businesses. Salmo earned his Juris Doctorate from Southern Illinois University and has served on several nonprofit boards including KVC Missouri, which strengthens families and helps people achieve mental health wellness through its more than 800 employees.

Spring 2023 commencement schedule

Friday, May 12
2 p.m. – College of Optometry at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center

Saturday, May 13
9 a.m. – College of Arts and Sciences I – arts, humanities, mathematics and sciences
2 p.m. – College of Arts and Sciences II – interdisciplinary studies, liberal students and social sciences
7 p.m. – College of Nursing, School of Social Work and UMSL/Washington University Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program

Sunday, May 14
1 p.m. – College of Education and SUCCEED Certificate Program
6 p.m. – College of Business Administration

Burk Krohe

Burk Krohe