Photo Friday: Boyer’s Degrees

Ernest L. Boyer as a 1946 Messiah Academy (high school) graduate.

Ernest L. Boyer as a 1946 Messiah Academy (high school) graduate.

Today’s Photo Friday post features Ernie Boyer’s Messiah Academy graduation photo. While this photo may not be the most engaging we have had on Service Fulfilled, the story behind it is greatly important, especially in light of recent events in the Boyer Archives.

Being that Boyer was an alumnus of Messiah College (known during his student days as Messiah Bible College), a current Messiah student recently posed a question to the archives staff: “What did Boyer major in when he was at Messiah?” While the question is so basic, its answer is often overlooked when discussing the numerous accomplishments Boyer made in his later years.

To answer this question it must first be understood that when Boyer came to Messiah in 1945, he came to enroll in the Messiah Academy, a high school program sponsored by the college in those days. One year later he enrolled in what was then Messiah Bible College. Although the college offered various tracks of study, it was not accredited to grant bachelor’s degrees. Thus Boyer applied the credits he had earned from the bible college to a bachelor’s degree program at Greenville College, a Free Methodist school in Illinois. Although there is conflicting evidence as to his major at Greenville, it is clear that he studied history and psychology.

Yet, because Boyer later played a key role in American education, including as the chancellor of the SUNY university system and as the U.S. Commissioner of Education, this then begs another question: Why did Boyer shift his focus from history and psychology to education and administration?

To answer this question we must continue our re-tracing of Boyer’s academic pursuits. After graduating from Greenville College in 1950, Boyer and his wife, Kay, moved to Florida, where Ernie became a pastor of a small Brethren in Christ Church. However, one year later, wanting to continue his studies, Ernie accepted a faculty position at Upland College in Southern California. (This school, like Messiah in those days, was owned and operated by the Brethren in Christ Church.) It was in Southern California that he began working on his master’s and doctorate degrees in speech at the University of Southern California.

Yet, there were a few times when it seemed that Boyer might not finish his degree. One such instance occurred in 1954, when he was forced to withdraw his attendance from the university for a term due to an “emergency appendix and abdominal exploratory operation.” Still, not only did Boyer persevere through these difficult times, he thrived. It seems that his teaching and administrative roles at Upland College caused a change in Boyer. As Kay notes in her book Many Mansions,

Ernie was also interested in the development of the curriculum and was formulating his own educational philosophy. Being a member of the college curriculum committee ignited his thinking and passion. . . . Given his passion, I started to understand his fascination with the subject and recognize the importance of the work he was doing on this committee; in many ways he would continue to do this work over the course of his life.

Today’s Photo Friday post is not only a formal answer to the student who posed the question of Boyer’s degrees; it is also a glimpse into the reality of the educational experience, which builds a foundation for one’s life and provides direction for the future.