Neal E. Boyd, left, will sing at Southeast commencement exercises May 15 while his friend and fraternity brother, Jason LeGrand, right, will be honored with a Young Alumni Merit Award.
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.,
May 10, 2010 – A friendship that began at Southeast Missouri State University 16 years ago will come full circle on May 15 when alumnus and stellar vocalist, Neal E. Boyd, shares the commencement stage with friend and Young Alumni Merit Award Winner Jason LeGrand.
Boyd plans to sing the “National Anthem” and the “Alma Mater,” while his Lambda Chi Alpha big brother, LeGrand, will be honored with a Young Alumni Merit Award from the College of Liberal Arts.
“He’s always been there for me,” said Boyd, a Sikeston, Mo., native and 2001 Southeast alumnus who leapt to national and international fame in 2008 when he won NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” “I wouldn’t miss it.”
LeGrand, a Cape Girardeau native, is a 1997 Southeast graduate now living in Washington, D.C. He is the director of Major Gifts for the West Coast for the University of Maryland, College Park and is working on the University of Maryland’s $1 billion “Great Expectations” capital campaign. He holds a bachelor of science degree from Southeast with a major in mass communication, public relations option, and a minor in psychology.
“This is a long time coming and a well-deserved honor for Jason,” Boyd said. “He is truly dedicated to Southeast and its mission for higher education, fund raising, and advancement. Jason has a great love for our school, but more importantly, he has a great love for the area he came from, and he takes that with him wherever he goes.”
Boyd says he is looking forward to joining his friend in the commencement festivities.
“This is an opportunity to honor my alma mater and my close friend at the same time,” he said. “Jason has been giving back to the University for over a decade now, and he has taught me and a whole generation of Lambda Chis to do the same.”
LeGrand, a member of the President’s Council (Southeast’s gift society that recognizes donor generosity) , said, “It’s funny to think that Neal and I have gone from attending Southeast special events in the 1990s as Presidential Ambassadors (student hosts), to attending as special guests.”
The two have known each other for nearly 16 years since LeGrand was named Boyd’s Lambda Chi Alpha “big brother” in fall 1994 at Southeast.
“Having Jason as my ‘Big Brother’ basically made us family in my eyes, and we acted very much like brothers, meaning we had each other’s backs during good times and bad,” Boyd said. “He (LeGrand) had already accomplished many of the collegiate goals I was looking forward to achieving. Who else was a better mentor or resource to utilize than your fraternity brother living in the room down the hall?”
LeGrand said he and Boyd seemed like “two very different people on the outside” when they first met – “a reserved, skinny kid with glasses, and a big guy with a big presence and a disarming sense of humor. Through the fraternity, we discovered we were two people with very similar values and ideals. We both placed a very high value on loyalty and honesty in our friends, and those simple things became the foundation of a lifelong friendship.”
When LeGrand first met Boyd, he said he saw “a likeable, compassionate guy with an incredible ability to disarm anyone with a few words, and an ability to communicate and connect with people in an amazing way.”
He said Boyd, during his college years, honed “a truly amazing ability to connect with people from all sorts of backgrounds and perspectives.
“Our friendship developed over time through college, based on our loyalty to our friendship and to the fraternity, an unspoken commitment to protect each other, a love of politics, a strong drive to be successful in our lives … and a love of Imo’s Pizza,” LeGrand added.
LeGrand wore a number of student leadership hats at Southeast, where he worked as a student assistant in the Office of the President under former Southeast Presidents Kala Stroup, Bill Atchley and Dale Nitzschke.
“He had a great reputation for getting things done around campus, especially within the Greek community,” Boyd said, recalling his early days at Southeast. “I was an ambitious freshman from Sikeston (Mo.) who had just come from serving as student body president at my high school. Now, here I was starting all over again, and I looked to Jason’s leadership model, his accomplishments and insight to learn how to become a more effective student leader at Southeast.”
Boyd said he and LeGrand shared interests in leadership, communications and politics. Both were nominated for and served on Southeast’s Homecoming Court. Both served at Southeast as Presidential Ambassadors and were active in Inter-Fraternity Council, Student Government and Student Ambassadors Council. Both were also interns with the Missouri General Assembly.
Boyd said LeGrand served as his mentor.
“We had a great sense of … purpose that compelled us to push ourselves further than the competition,” Boyd said. “We would often talk about life after college, what we hoped for and what that life might actually look like.
“Both of us were big dreamers from southeast Missouri who believed anything was possible,” said Boyd, who holds undergraduate degrees from both Southeast Missouri State University and the University of Missouri-Columbia.
“He and I have a personal mission to see Southeast Missouri State University grow into an even greater institution of higher learning,” Boyd said.
In 2009, LeGrand introduced Boyd at their fraternity’s 20th anniversary banquet, where Boyd was inducted into the chapter’s Hall of Fame. Over the years, the two have been actively involved in Southeast alumni events in Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, including an annual event at Grant’s Farm. Last fall, at LeGrand’s invitation, Boyd participated in a Southeast alumni event in Washington, D.C.
At Southeast, Boyd was a speech communication major with minors in music and political science. Since graduating from Southeast, Boyd has risen to international vocal fame after taking “America’s Got Talent’s” top prize. He has had highly successful concert tours, a recently released CD produced by Decca Records/Universal Music, and millions of views of his videos on You Tube and Bing.com.
“It is hard to believe that I didn’t actually hear him (Boyd) sing – one thing that defined him for a lot of people – for many years,” LeGrand said.
Throughout his rise to fame, Boyd said, “Jason has always been my ‘closest personal advisor.’ From politics to music, he has been pivotal in keeping me on track and pointing out unseen opportunities in both areas.”
Boyd says LeGrand came all the way from his job, which at the time, was at Cornell University, to Boyd’s New York City concert debut at Carnegie Hall in 2000. He said LeGrand also was one of the first friends he approached about auditioning for “America’s Got Talent.” As LeGrand’s fund-raising territory with the University of Maryland was central and southern California, he was able to attend most of the live shows and the finale of “America’s Got Talent,” Boyd said.
“We’ve worked hard to be there for the big moments in each others’ lives,” LeGrand said. “The great thing about ‘America’s Got Talent’ is that it showcased his (Boyd’s) personality – his heart and soul – and not just his voice. It was the perfect way to expose America to the real Neal E. Boyd – the same one I know.”
During his “America’s Got Talent” run, Boyd said, “Jason played a huge role in debating song selection, archiving stories in magazines and online. He helped organize and coordinate visits from my hometown friends and family, which was a huge load off my mind. After the show, he organized my return to Cape Girardeau for the Homecoming parade (in 2008). And when all the confetti had fallen, all the floats had passed, and the game was over, we celebrated our win at the same place we used to celebrate all of our previous achievements — on the back patio of Imo’s Pizza.”
Added LeGrand, “Between the two of us, we’ve lived in St. Louis, Boston, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.,” since graduating from Southeast. “But we’ve always stayed connected, visited each other in all those places and always meet up back in Cape.”
Boyd, who currently resides in West County St. Louis, is the son of Esther Boyd of Sikeston, Mo. LeGrand is the son of Evelyn LeGrand of Summerville, S.C., and Larry LeGrand of Litchfield, Ill.