It was a tale of two commencements.

One, a hot and humid Sunday afternoon on June 1, 1969. The other, the Saturday of May 11, 2019.

What made the 1969 ceremony special was it marked the first graduating class to receive four-year degrees from Missouri Southern. Two years earlier, the former Joplin Junior College made the move from downtown to the new campus built on the Mission Hills estate.

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). A sociology major, she went to work for the University of Missouri’s Extension program before deciding to join the United States Air Force.

In 1975, she participated in “Operation Baby Lift,” an evacuation plan which removed orphans and refugees from Saigon. She worked at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines to process the children and refugees for further travel to Guam and later the United States – for which she received two Humanitarian Service medals.

Her career would also find her stationed in San Antonio, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; and near Madrid in Spain.

Retiring as a lieutenant colonel after more than 20 years of service, she went on to teach 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.

On May 11, Bevins was on hand to speak to graduates during MSSU’s 72nd commencement.

“Fifty years ago, I was in the same shoes that you’re in,” she said. “Like some of you, I thought about going out into the great big world and making a difference … maybe someday join the Peace Corps. But that wasn’t the door I went through.

“You never know if the door you’re getting ready to go through is the door you thought you were going to go through. But it’s your door; go through it. Take a leap of faith and you may like where you stand.”