A&S Welcomes U.S. Senator Tim Kaine to Commencement

Speech Marks his 40th Anniversary as MU Grad
U.S. Senator Tim Kaine
Jordan Yount
News Source: 
College of Arts & Science

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia says he is looking forward to speaking to graduates at the College of Arts and Science graduation ceremonies May 19 in Mizzou Arena, especially since this year marks his 40th anniversary as a Mizzou alumnus.

“They reached out to me last year to see if I would do it, but I was in the thick of a re-election campaign,” Kaine says. “I haven’t been on campus since 2004, so I’m excited to come, and my parents are going to come with me. They were at the graduation 40 years ago, and we’re looking forward to poking around campus and seeing what’s new, different, and exciting.”


A Change in Direction

Kaine graduated from MU in 1979 with a degree in economics, although he originally majored in journalism. During his first semester in fall 1976, he took an Economics 51 honors class with legendary economics Professor John Kuhlman, who retired from Mizzou in 1985.

Professor John Kuhlman“John was such a fantastic teacher,” Kaine says. “I was pre-journalism, but I decided I liked econ so much that I switched my focus, and by the end of the semester I had become an econ major.”

Kaine says he will talk to spring 2019 graduates about Kuhlman, who served as Kaine’s academic adviser, and the life lessons Kuhlman instilled in his students.

“He was an amazing teacher, but he also had a real moral sense about our obligations together as teachers and students,” Kaine says. “Some of the lessons he taught me were really more about life in general than just the years you are on a university campus.”

Kaine also served as a teaching assistant in fall 1978 and spring ’79 for another legendary Mizzou economics professor, Walter Johnson, who taught introductory economics to more than 40,000 students during his 33 years at MU.


Life Lessons

Although both economics professors served as role models for Kaine, he says he learned the value of hard work from his father, who ran an ironworking shop in Kansas City.

“I inherited from my father a very prodigious work ethic,” Kaine says. “He was all about hard work, and he convinced all three of his boys—my two brothers are just like me—that working hard is the way to go. The more things you take on, the more you then learn to discipline yourself, allocate your time wisely, and not waste time.”

Tim Kaine, far left, with Mizzou classmatesThose paternal lessons obviously took root: Kaine was a member of Omicron Delta Kappa, QEBH, and Phi Beta Kappa; he was a Summer Welcome leader; and he worked at the Career Planning and Placement Center and as a teaching assistant all while managing to graduate summa cum laude in just three years. But Kaine was not “all work and no play” during his time at Mizzou. He spent weekends camping and rock climbing with friends at Finger Lakes State Park north of Columbia or Rock Bridge State Park south of town. On other weekends, they might put in canoes on a local stream, and each Spring Break Kaine organized a canoe trip on the Eleven Point, Current, or Buffalo River.

“If you like the outdoors, and I do, Columbia’s access to all of that is one of its virtues,” he says.


A Career of Service to Others

Following his graduation from Mizzou, Kaine was accepted to Harvard Law School in 1979 but interrupted his studies to run a technical school founded by Jesuit missionaries in Honduras, where he trained teenagers to become carpenters and welders. Kaine says his time in Honduras reinforced three core values that continue to guide his life: faith, family, and work.

“My parents, the Jesuits I had as high school teachers, John Kuhlman at Mizzou, and the Jesuits I worked with in Honduras in 1980 and ’81 all set this thumbprint on me—that your happiness is helping others achieve happiness, and you should serve others,” he says. 

After spending nine months in Honduras, Kaine returned to Harvard Law School, where he met fellow law student Anne Holton. The pair married in 1984 in the same church they still attend today. Kaine says he happened to marry a woman who shares his belief in public service.

MU student Tim Kaine

“My wife, Anne, is an amazing public servant in her own right, and so we have had nearly 35 years of marriage (this November) where we both tried to support each other in careers of service to others,” he says. Anne has served as a legal aid lawyer, a juvenile court judge, Virginia’s Secretary of Education, and she now teaches at George Mason University. Her father, Linwood Holton, was a former governor of Virginia, a position Tim Kaine held from 2006 to 2010.


The Political Bug Bites

Kaine practiced law for 17 years in Richmond, Virginia, after earning his law degree from Harvard in 1983. He specialized in representing people who had been denied housing due to their race, disability, or family status. In 1994, Kaine won a seat on the Richmond City Council and four years later was elected mayor of Richmond. He was elected lieutenant governor of Virginia in 2001 and was inaugurated as the state’s 70th governor in 2006, where he worked to improve Virginia’s health care and education systems. Kaine continued to climb the leadership ladder, winning election to the United States Senate in 2012. In 2016, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton named Kaine as her running mate, and in 2018, Kaine was re-elected to the U.S. Senate, where he serves on the Armed Services; Budget; Foreign Relations; and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committees. Kaine is one of only 30 people in American history to serve as mayor, governor, and senator.


A Family Affair

Three of Kaine’s nieces also attend Mizzou—one is enrolled in the College of Arts and Science, one is majoring in journalism, and the third niece is studying engineering, although none of them is graduating this semester. Kaine says being invited to speak to graduates at one’s alma mater is a huge honor, and he is happy he will be able to share the experience with his family.

“I remember my own graduation very clearly and the fact my mom and dad were there, and they are both still in good health and will join me, and then my three nieces are there, so the family connection to Mizzou continues,” Kaine says. “I’m very excited about this.”

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