Renaissance man

Kansas City attorney John Shaw on the importance of a liberal arts degree.

“A liberal arts degree not only helps you make a living; it also helps make your life worth living.” — John Shaw. Photo by Michael Cali

Published on Show Me Mizzou May 5, 2021

John Shaw is a Kansas City attorney who loves the law and poetry. But don’t ask him which matters more. As both a lawyer and lover of literature, Shaw sees himself as a well-educated person.

In addition to Shaw’s Mizzou law degree (’77), he earned bachelor’s (’73) and master’s degrees (’77) in English. As an undergraduate, he reveled in sampling the works of great thinkers, and he loved learning about varied cultures “without having to travel around the world.” Shaw emerged from Mizzou with a love of liberal arts and the desire and ability to make a case for the value of an arts and science degree. Exhibit 1: Proving the practical purpose of having a college degree — entry to a career and better-paying work — is a necessary but not sufficient outcome of earning a college diploma. “A liberal arts degree not only helps you make a living; it also helps make your life worth living,” he says.

He shares his appreciation of poetry with his colleagues and family, circulating a poem each year for all to share at their Thanksgiving gathering. And on occasion, he’s used poetry to connect with strangers and witnesses. Once during a trial break, Shaw approached a key witness, a British hunting guide from Kenya who had driven his injured client over the Limpopo River. Recalling one of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories, Shaw asked in a mock-serious tone, “Is it true the elephant got his trunk on the banks of the great grey-green greasy Limpopo River?” And with that, an instant bond was established.

Shaw is more than an aficionado of the arts. He is also a supporter of the College of Arts and Science, serving on the English Department Leaders Board as well as on the dean’s Strategic Development Board.

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