Salute to Excellence: 246 CASE scholars earned undergraduate degrees in Spring 2024

CASE Spring 2024 Salute to Excellence April 18, 2024. Cedric “Cj” Harris/University of Missouri

The Reynolds Alumni Center was lit up the evening of April 18, 2024, in honor of the Center for Academic Excellence (CASE) Spring 2024 Salute to Excellence. The event honored 246 graduating CASE scholars who earned the Donald M. Suggs, George C. Brooks, Diversity, KC Scholars and Transition awards during their undergraduate tenure at the University of Missouri. Additional invitees included hundreds of CASE scholars who earned Dean’s List recognition in spring 2024. Students’ families and friends attended the event via Zoom. 

Dr. E. Andre Thorn, CASE director, opened the ceremony with inspiring words for the graduates. 

“As you stand on the precipice of this new chapter in your lives, know that you carry with you not only the knowledge and skills gained within these walls, but also the spirit of resilience that defines our Tiger community,” Dr. Thorn said. “Though your paths may diverge, know that you will always be a part of the Tiger family—a community bound together by shared experiences and a commitment to lifelong learning.”

Dr. Jim Spain, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies, began his remarks by addressing the parents and families in attendance.

“Thank you for trusting us with the lives of these young people as they navigate the complicated process of earning their degree,” he said.

Dr. Spain encouraged the graduates to consider adopting a definition of success that focused less on career and more on what sort of person each would grow to become. 

“Tonight, we celebrate the sacrifices that you have made, the risks that you have taken and your commitment to meeting your own personal standards of excellence,” Dr. Spain said.

Keynote speaker Victor Bradford, Social Impact Team Lead at Veterans United Home Loans, shared his perspective as a first-generation college student. He emphasized the students’ immense achievement in persevering to graduation through the historic, global crisis of COVID-19. He used a toy Dyson vacuum to illustrate his point that inventor Sir James Dyson spent 15 years creating prototypes and failing an estimated 341 times per year before his eventual vacuum design made him a billionaire. 

“You have just as much grace and just as much opportunity to forgive yourself for anything you do,” Bradford said. “You have been tested in ways you never could have imagined, and yet, you have emerged from these trials stronger, wiser and more passionate than ever before.”

Dr. Thorn then surprised the crowd with the announcement that each graduating scholar would take the stage to give individual remarks and accept their CASE stoles made of Kente cloth, which originates from a group of Ghana and Ewe people known as the Ashanti. 

Eighty-five students expressed their thanks and announced their plans, from working at Mizzou’s Child Development Laboratory to a tech consulting firm in Los Angeles; from medical school to a flavor chemistry internship at McCormack Seasonings; from ESPN production intern to thoroughbred farm in Kentucky; from sales at Pepsi to safety testing at Boeing. 

Featured Graduating CASE Scholars

Carleigh Boyd

George C. Brooks Scholar

Major: Sociology and Economics

Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio

Carleigh Boyd and Dr. Andre Thorn
Carleigh Boyd and Dr. Andre Thorn. Cedric “Cj” Harris/University of Missouri

Carleigh Boyd graduated from the Brooks cohort having earned dean’s list recognition each semester. Boyd served as a campus tour guide, United Ambassador, QEBH secret honor society member, Athletic Ambassador and member of the Black Collegiate Network. She was crowned Miss Black and Gold in 2023 by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and is graduating from MU with summa cum laude honors.

“My post-grad plans are to be determined, but I just want to thank my friends and family and everyone who has helped me get to this point,” Boyd said.

Miyah Jones

Summer Bridge and Diversity Scholar

Major: Political Science, pre-law emphasis

Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee

Miyah Jones with Dr. Andre Thorn
Miyah Jones and Dr. Andre Thorn. Cedric “Cj” Harris/University of Missouri

Miyah Jones was elected the first Black, female student body president in the history of the Missouri Students Association. Jones served as the Black Pre-Law Students Association President, a MizzouRec Membership Lead and Summer Welcome Leader. She has earned several awards, including the Mizzou ’39 award, MizzouRec Employee of the Year, MizzouRec Director’s Excellence Award, Arts & Science Royalty Finalist and NAACP Image Award.Jones hopes to one day run her own innocence project. “This fall, I will be studying fulltime for the LSAT, and I would like to thank God, my family and all my loved ones,” Jones said. 

Cydney Perkins

Diversity Scholar

Major: Black Studies and Political Science, pre-law emphasis

Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri

Cydney Perkins with Dr. Andre Thorn
Cydney Perkins and Dr. Andre Thorn. Cedric “Cj” Harris/University of Missouri

Cydney Perkins was elected the first Black, female student body vice president in Missouri Students Association history. Perkins served as founder and executive director of the Filling in the Space initiative, member of the Alumni Association Student Board, Resident Advisor, Legion of Black Collegians senator, LSV secret honor society member and Summer Welcome Leader. She received the College of Arts and Science Royalty Respect Award, NAACP Dr. Medgar Evers Political Award and was voted the Legion of Black Collegians Homecoming Queen in 2023.

Perkins plans to take a year off from school before applying to law school. “My post-grad plans are taking a breath, and in 2025, going to law school. I just want to thank my Lord and savior for getting me through,” she said.

Cedric “Cj” Harris

Diversity Scholar

Major: Information Technology

Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri

Cj Harris with Dr. Andre Thorn
Cj Harris and Dr. Andre Thorn. Cedric “Cj” Harris/University of Missouri

Cj Harris served as a content producer for Mizzou Athletics, photographer and videographer for the Department of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity and a producer for Mizzou Visual Productions. Harris founded his self-owned photography and video production company in 2019. He has been credited for more than 3,000 photos and videos taken for the University of Missouri. Harris was featured on The College Tour @Mizzou, where he highlighted the College of Engineering and “Spot” the Robot Dog.

Harris plans to work full-time as an IT Analyst for engineering firm Kimley-Horn in Dallas, Texas. “If you ask me that again this time next week, I might have a different answer for you,” he said. Harris also plans to pursue his Master of Business Administration and to open his personal studio within six months of graduation.

Following the students’ speeches, Natalie Lewis, Chief Operating Officer of Great Job KC  (formerly known as the KC Scholars Organization), took the podium and spoke of the difficulties these scholars have faced and will face in life, and the endurance that will see them through.

“We’re forgetting to tell you all that you really do have to be twice as good. And it’s not always going to be fair,” Lewis said.

Lewis further highlighted the excellence of the scholars’ achievements and led the audience in several toasts.

“You really are that amazing,” she told the scholars. “Allow yourself to be unapologetically uncommon.”

To close the ceremony, Dr. Thorn reminded attendees of CASE’s mission.“The Center for Academic Success & Excellence isn’t just a place; it’s a beacon of hope, guidance and empowerment for students from all walks of life,” he said. “It’s a testament to the university’s dedication to demonstrating that success comes from every zip code.”