Completing the Circle

Truman the Tiger and Melodie Powell

Truman the Tiger high fives Melodie Powell, the 2017 Commencement speaker for the College of Arts and Science. The ceremony will begin at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15 in the Hearnes Center.

Jordan Yount
News Source: 
College of Arts & Science
Departments: 
Campus
Romance Languages

Forty years ago this month, Melodie Powell, BA ’77, JD ’81, received her bachelor’s degree in French during commencement exercises in the Hearnes Center. On Friday, Powell will return to the Hearnes Center to deliver the commencement address to the Class of 2017. During those intervening years, Powell served as an attorney in private practice, worked as an assistant attorney general in the Missouri Attorney General’s office, and has spent the past 20 years as an attorney with the Kansas City law firm Evans & Dixon, where she specializes in workers’ compensation law. While she has made a career in the legal profession, Mizzou remains her passion.

“I grew up in a small town in the Bootheel (Sikeston), and one of my mother’s friends was very active with Mizzou,” Powell says. “When I went off to MU, Mrs. Bowman gave me stamps, and I had to send her the Maneater every Tuesday and Friday. She instilled in me a passion for MU, and I think it’s only fitting that I give back to an institution that has given me so much in the way of an undergraduate degree, a law school degree, and a wonderful career.”

Remembering her Roots

Powell has given back to her alma mater in countless ways. She served in a number of leadership positions with the Mizzou Alumni Association, including president, chair of the Kansas City scholarship committee, and honorary co-chair of the Tiger Ball. She is a founding member of the Griffiths Leadership Society for Women, a long-time member of the Jefferson Club, and has served on the College of Arts and Science Strategic Development Board.,

“I grew up in a household where my parents volunteered for church, for the community, for the school—so it was ingrained in me that that’s what you do—you give back, and I have a passion for volunteering. Fortunately I have been able to channel that passion into volunteer work for MU,” Powell says.

When she’s not helping legal clients or volunteering for the university, Powell might be found enjoying her other passion—music. She is an accomplished bassoonist who played for the Jefferson City Symphony for close to nine years and later decided to learn to play the cello. She might have started cello lessons at a younger age if her father had not been a music teacher.

“He was a string teacher, and there was no way in the world I was going to play a string instrument and have my dad as a teacher,” she says. “I started out on the clarinet, and when I was in eighth grade we had a new band director who was a double-reed man, which was fortunate because I was ready to switch to the bassoon at that point.” The gig with the Jefferson City Symphony started as a fluke; her dad, a member of the symphony, called her two days before a concert and said they needed a second bassoon. Even though she hadn’t played in seven years, she accepted, and played well enough to be invited to join the ensemble. She started taking cello lessons in 2000 as a personal endeavor.

Never Quit Learning

“I think it’s important that as we age we continue to learn,” Powell says. “I tend to think people are lifelong learners, and to the extent you can keep yourself challenged by taking lessons or doing something you love, it makes your brain work better as you age.“

Powell and her husband, Jerry Short, are also fond of gourmet cooking, as anyone who has attended their “epic” football tailgates at Memorial Stadium can attest. The pair also donate gourmet dinners at the Tiger Ball auction in Kansas City and then go to the purchaser’s home to cook the meal. Even though Jerry is not an MU alumnus, Powell says he has been very supportive of her volunteer work for MU.

“For that, I owe him because he’s eaten a lot of chicken dinners,” she says.

Powell says she has too many favorite memories of her time as an undergrad to name just one, but she counts Tiger football games and serving on the Panhellenic Council as a couple that stand out. Actually, she says two of her favorite MU memories occurred as an alumna. The most humbling event, she says, was being tapped into the MU secret society QEBH, the oldest of the six honor societies on campus. The most fun memory is a recent one: Powell purchased the opportunity at the Tiger Ball to conduct Marching Mizzou’s performance of “Eye of the Tiger” during the pregame show Sept. 23 when Mizzou hosted Auburn. “I was a drum major in high school, so this was old hat—I wasn’t even nervous,” she says.

Powell says she plans to talk about the value of a liberal arts education when she delivers the commencement address to A&S graduates December 15. And her advice for those about to enter the next phase of their lives?

“Be professional, give back, be selfless,” she says.

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