It was a humid Sunday afternoon on June 1, 1969, and the Robert Ellis Young Gymnasium at Missouri Southern State College was packed.

Students, family, faculty members and other guests were gathered for the afternoon’s commencement ceremony.

While it was the former Joplin Junior College’s 31st ceremony, this day was extra special – it marked the first graduating class to receive four-year degrees. In 1967, the junior college had made the move from downtown to the new campus built on the Mission Hills estate.

Leon Billingsly, president of Missouri Southern, presided over the ceremony, which included an address by George A. Spiva Jr., a professor of economics at the University of Tennessee and son of college library namesake George A. Spiva.

“(Spiva Jr.) gave a memorable graduation speech,” says Dr. Conrad Gubera, a longtime professor of sociology at Missouri Southern. “He tied it into ‘Man of La Mancha’ and his refrain was ‘Just keep dreaming the impossible dream … just keep dreaming the impossible dream, and sometimes it will be possible.’”

Fred G. Hughes, president of the college’s Board of Regents and of the Board of Trustees, led the conferring of diplomas to members of the graduating class.

The first of the nearly 200 students to walk across the makeshift stage to receive bachelor’s degrees that day was Barbara Bevins (then Blackford). She was among the two-year junior college students who made the transition to the new, four-year campus.

“I’m a person who likes to save dessert for last,” says Bevins. “I got all the basics out of the way and didn’t declare a sociology major until my junior year. I was one of those youngsters who thought they could go out and save the world.”

On Saturday, May 11, 50 years after the first four-year degrees were conferred, both Gubera and Bevins will be on hand to speak during Missouri Southern State University’s 72nd commencement.

Gubera has taught at Missouri Southern since the new campus was established in 1967. He helped create the framework for the sociology degree program and has taught a variety of courses. He was the recipient of the Outstanding Teacher Award in 1996 and the Outstanding International Teacher Award a decade later.

After graduation, Bevins served in the United States Air Force for more than 20 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel and taught for many years as a JROTC instructor in

Midland, Texas, where she still resides with her husband. She was the recipient of Missouri Southern’s Outstanding Alumni award in 1991.

The 72nd graduating class includes 39 international students from 21 countries. The ceremony will also include the awarding of 52 master’s degrees.

Graduates from the Schools of Business and Education will attend the 9:30 a.m. ceremony. The ceremony for the Schools of Arts & Sciences and Health Sciences will be at 1 p.m.

During the morning ceremony, Missouri Southern will recognize the Golden Graduates present – those who graduated 50 years ago or more. The ceremonies will be streamed live at www.mssu.edu. KGCS-TV will also provide live coverage. The ceremony for the Schools of Business and Education will be rebroadcast at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 12; while the Schools of Arts & Sciences and Health Sciences will be shown at 7 p.m. Monday, May 13. The station is available on local cable systems, including Cable One, Mediacom and Suddenlink.

DVD copies will be available for purchase. For more information, contact Judy Stiles at 417-625-9777.