Valedictorian, Mizzou Golden Girl, and Professor
Wed, 02/01/2023 - 9:48am admin
I am fascinated by people who can do things that I haven’t done or probably couldn’t do. Esoteric subjects interest me, but I can’t imagine getting a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in philosophy, and after those accomplishments, changing course and going to law school. Then, becoming a Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism—only a small percentage of professors achieve this distinction—and from 1987 to 2013, as an adjunct professor, also teaching at Missouri University Law School. Well, that’s what WSHS alum Sandra Davidson did.
How did Sandra (still, Sandy to friends), the recipient of two prestigious Missouri University Curator’s Scholarships and the UMC Association of Women Students Centennial Scholarship, decide to pursue this course of study? Unlike my spur-of-the-moment decisions in college—I decided to scrap the Marine Corps, go to Europe, and then law school, while drinking coffee in the student union—Sandy’s curriculum vitae appears to have been planned with military precision.
But even the best laid plans often get altered. Sandy says, “I started as a music major but had an oboe teacher who wanted me to spend too much time making reeds and not enough time making music. I transferred to political science, something I was interested in from high school speech and debate. From there I transferred to philosophy, which answered deeper questions concerning political matters and morality.”
A Mizzou professor in the education department told me the best indicator of success in college was grades in high school. So, it isn’t surprising that the valedictorian of the Class of 1964 excelled in college. But with Sandy, it wasn’t just about grades at WSHS.
I recall her as an engaging personality, who participated in speech and debate, concert band, and had featured roles in school musicals “Oklahoma” and “South Pacific.” Moreover, the Bruin Marching Band showcased her as a baton twirler starting in the eighth grade.
As a senior, after winning and competing in numerous speech and debate tournaments, she was named WSHS Speaker of the Year. In concert band and ensembles, she played the oboe, which is generally considered to be one of the most difficult instruments to master. Nevertheless, she scored top ratings at the State Music Festival her junior and senior years. Playing the oboe is another thing I can’t imagine doing. My attempt would, at best, sound like a duck call.
Remarkably, Sandy’s talent at baton twirling, which began as a little girl, paid dividends in college. Anyone who has ever been to a college football game in Columbia, or seen Marching Mizzou on TV (as in last year’s Macy’s Day Parade) is familiar with its dance team, the Golden Girls. From an article in Vox Magazine published in 2015, I learned that in an interesting turn of events, Sandy became one of the original Golden Girls.
In 1964, the summer before her freshman year at Mizzou, Sandy auditioned and won a spot on the twirling team, which had been added to Marching Mizzou in 1957. In her tryout, she wore a silver-sequined leotard she had worn at WSHS. Incidentally, because she had a flaming baton routine in her repertoire, she originally got the outfit because it was fire retardant. Impressed with her tryout costume, the band director ordered gold-sequined versions for the entire squad, which soon became known as the Golden Girls. And Sandy’s flame-retardant outfit was the prototype for the Golden Girl uniforms.
Another thing a lot of folks don’t know is Sandy advanced beyond local competition in the Miss Missouri Pageant. My mother served as her hairdresser/chaperone and was quite impressed with her, including her ability to eat a fairly rare steak.
I asked Sandy how WSHS prepared her for college, and if any teachers influenced her. She said, “I always say my hardest teacher was Mrs. Munford. She graded me on what she thought I could do, not on a set scale. I loved it! I loved her. She prepared me for college.”
After obtaining her B.A. in philosophy, with honors, including Phi Beta Kappa, she continued her studies at Mizzou and received an M.A. in philosophy in 1973. As the recipient of a 3-year NDEA graduate fellowship, she earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at Connecticut University—Storrs (the main campus) in 1977. That’s a top-ranking graduate school, which today, only admits about 7 Ph.D. students annually in the philosophy graduate program.
Of course, advanced degrees require dedication and effort, but right after her first semester in graduate school, she had her first baby. Her second baby was born while she was doing her doctoral course work. And her third child was born after Sandy completed her comprehensive exams, but before she started her dissertation on the political philosophy of Immanuel Kant and John Rawls.
As to philosophy, after Locke and Hume, my knowledge tapers quickly, but I do know something about law school. And after teaching an undergraduate course in philosophy, that’s where Sandy headed—to law school, at the University of Missouri-Columbia. There, she distinguished herself as a member of the law review, graduating with honors and tapped into the Order of the Coif (top 10%) in 1982. Even for the brightest students, law school is no mean feat, particularly, when her youngest child started school the same year Sandy started law school.
I was curious and asked Sandy about the apparent change of direction—from an academic pursuit of philosophy to a traditional, professional school and admission to the Bar. Her answer surprised me. She says, “I always wanted a Ph.D. and a law degree. In philosophy I learned about natural law, and in law I learned about positive law.” The combination has served her well, as a multiple award-winning professor who taught media and communications law at both Mizzou’s journalism school and law school.
A prolific author, Sandy has written well over a hundred professional publications, including law review and other scholarly articles. As an educator, she has traveled to international forums, including China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia, Prague (Czech Republic), Bratislava (Slovakia), and Exeter College of the University of Oxford in England. Moreover, she spent a semester teaching in London for the University of Missouri J-School program there.
In spite of the multitude of accolades and awards, she still retains values learned in Willow Springs. Last year, in response to a question posed to her in the Journal of the Missouri Bar, about the best advice someone gave her, she responded, “Don’t be vulgar. That was the advice from my grandmother, who helped raise me. It was her universal rule for appropriate behavior, whether the subject was table manners, dress, how to treat others, or almost anything else. It is a good piece of advice for lawyers on how to treat each other, I believe.”
Today, as a professor emeritus, she spends time with her husband, four grandchildren, and writing, including a book dealing with an Ozark murder trial that is all-too-familiar to some older Willow Springs folks.
A regular reader of this column from St. Louis, who is not from Willow Springs, recently said, “There were a lot of bright kids in that little country school.” Obviously, Sandra Davidson was one of them.