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Hessler’s Homecoming

Renowned writer and Columbia native earns MU honorary degree. 

On his way to middle school, Peter Hessler often rode past the Ming-dynasty lion statues that guard the entrance to the School of Journalism on Ninth Street, a precursor perhaps of adventures to come and a life he never would have imagined as a child.

Now an award-winning author and literary reporter, Hessler writes about his adventures as a global citizen in countries where the language, politics and culture offer unusual challenges.

None of it sounds easy. To write his articles for The New Yorker, Hessler lives in Egypt with his wife and twin toddlers and is developing proficiency in Arabic. To write his books on China, Hessler lived in the country for two years, learned Mandarin Chinese and developed the mettle to interact with people who weren’t particularly interested in getting to know a foreigner.

MU will recognize Hessler May 18 with an honorary degree during the commencement Honors Ceremony. It’s a fitting return home for the Columbia native, who says he feels honored to receive the degree from Mizzou.

“It meant so much to grow up in a university town, especially one with such a strong tradition of journalism and creative writing,” Hessler says.

Mizzou connections    

Hessler grew up in the shadow of the Columns, about a mile from campus on Westmount Avenue, where much of his early life intersected with Mizzou and with academia. Hessler is the son of MU Professor Emeritus Richard Hessler and Columbia College Adjunct Professor Anne Hessler.

“It was a wonderful place to be a kid. The university was so close that it essentially became my back yard. I knew the layout of every building on Francis Quad, especially the old sociology building, where my father was a professor,” he says.