Neal E. Boyd comes home for Southeast's Homecoming festivities

Sunday, October 26, 2008
Neal E. Boyd rides in the homecoming parade for Southeast Missouri State University on Saturday on Broadway. Boyd, winner of NBC's "America's Got Talent," was honored with the university's Distinguished Service Award. FRED LYNCH

"America's Got Talent" winner Neal E. Boyd still remembers sitting on a bench outside Kent Library at Southeast Missouri State University, belting out tunes with the voice that recently earned him a million dollars.

When people would ask what he was doing, he would tell them he was dreaming about the future.

Boyd, who graduated from Southeast in 2001, received a Distinguished Service Award from his alma mater at the All Alumni Breakfast on Saturday morning at the Aleen Vogel Wehking Alumni Center, and while he didn't say whether those dreams have come true, he did acknowledge that the past year had been good to him.

"I feel like this is gonna be one of the best years of my life," Boyd said.

The tenor, a native of Sikeston, Mo., received the $1 million prize for winning NBC's "America's Got Talent." He was concerned he wouldn't be able make the Homecoming festivities due to his hectic schedule, and was grateful he was able to attend.

"I think I've only missed one Homecoming in seven years," Boyd said in an interview before accepting the service award.

A line of other alumni remained at least three people long at Boyd's table as Southeast graduates clamored for a chance to congratulate Boyd on his win, shake his hand and snap a photo with him. He greeted nearly everyone by name.

Boyd earned his bachelor's degree in speech communication from Southeast in 2001, with minors in music and political science. At the same time he was taking classes at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he had transferred in 2000 to receive more vocal training, and earned a degree in music.

Boyd pointed out that while he's grateful to both universities for their support of his achievements, he opted to be at Southeast on Saturday, rather than the University of Missouri, which had its Homecoming events the same day.

"Southeast has always been one school that's really supported me -- I think they've taken a lot of pride in me," Boyd said.

He said he feels a sense of the university "coming together."

While at Southeast, Boyd was active in student government, a former student body vice president and Presidential Ambassador. He also served as a member of Interfraternity Council as a member of Lambda Chi Alpha, the Student Activities Council and the Residence Hall Association.

Boyd was a frequent soloist for the university choir and performed numerous roles with the Opera All-Stars.

At former Southeast president Dale Nitzschke's inauguration, he gave a solo performance at the Show Me Center, stepping in for Maya Angelou at the last minute.

Boyd's last public performance was a little different, headlining at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, where he performed in front of 5,000 people.

"My mom used to say I had delusions of grandeur. Now she just says I'm living out my delusions," Boyd said as he accepted the award.

Though contractual obligations prevented Boyd from showcasing his prize-winning vocals at a public performance Saturday, he did lead the room in singing the school's Alma Mater.

The last television star to be recognized by the university was Cedric "The Entertainer" Kyles, who received the Alumni Merit Award last year.

Also honored as recipients of the award were Gene Bess, athletic director and head basketball coach at Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Mo., and Dr. Jerry Waddle, a retired educator and former superintendent, principal and teacher with Delta, Dexter, Scott County and North County school districts.


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