UMKC Alumna Edie McClurg receives honorary doctorate
The University of Missouri-Kansas City received a surprise visit by alumna Edie McClurg (B.A.) in April and a return visit on May 13 for commencement, where she received an honorary doctorate and delivered the College of Arts and Sciences commencement address.
A native of Kansas City, McClurg is known for her roles as the car rental agent in Planes, Trains & Automobiles; Helen in Carrie; Marge Sweetwater in Back to School; Gloria’s mom in Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie; and Chastity Pariah in Elvira: Mistress of the Dark.
But she’s probably most-widely known as Grace in Ferris Buehler’s Day Off and for her famous line, part of which was improvised: “Oh, well, he’s very popular, Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads — they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.” Movie directors loved her improv and kept it all in the film.
The surprise campus visit on April 6 was the second leg of a quick cross-country trip from California to Delaware and back to California. Her stop in Kansas City was impromptu and brief, but thoroughly enjoyed by UMKC Alumni Association staff and College of Arts and Sciences Dean Wayne Vaught. While in Kansas City, McClurg drove by her childhood home in Kansas City.
Although the city and campus look different from when McClurg attended classes, the excitement is not forgotten. As she reminisced during her visit and during the Commencement address, McClurg recalled her dreams as a college student.
“I came to UMKC with the hopes and successes of my future. My focus was on completing these classes no matter what.”
She accomplished her goal and earned a bachelor’s degree in arts from UMKC. She took on her future. She worked at KCUR and taught radio at UMKC for eight years.
“It was a great experience. I really did find my voice in my time at KCUR.”
But life has a way of presenting new directions. McClurg soon found herself lured to California, where her brother lived. She completed a master’s degree there, which also was not focused on the entertainment industry. But after an introduction to improv, McClurg found her passion. She was offered a job performing with The Groundlings.
“The pay wasn’t much. But it was a good, fun job. I succeeded in many ways over that first year (in improv), then the job offers came in.”
McClurg has worked with David Letterman, appeared on WKRP in Cincinnati and landed her first movie role in Carrie. McClurg recalled that first movie role. She was told to keep her age quiet because she was older than the other girls. And it worked.
As McClurg recited her movie and television roles at commencement, the audience relished the memories. McClurg voiced Carlotta in The Little Mermaid, Minny in Cars and Cars 2; and Gerda in Frozen.
“I had a part in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” McClurg said to a roar of applause from the Commencement audience. “Still hot, huh?” McClurg chuckled.
While McClurg is widely known for her impact on the entertainment industry, an award-winning career that has spanned six decades, she addressed one thing she has in common with the UMKC Class of 2017 – an education from UMKC. It’s that education that can lead them anywhere, she told the graduates.
“I thought I would be a teacher, and I ended up as an actress,” McClurg said.
“After 55 years, here I am. I have been given a very honored thing today,” McClurg said of the honorary doctorate.
“As I look at the graduates here today, I know in my heart you can be anything you want to be. A degree from UMKC can take you anywhere. I am very honored to celebrate with all of you and proud to be a graduate of UMKC. Congratulations for all of the milestones. And thank you for sharing it here with me. I’m so blessed.”