"That's what I came here for. I wanted to say, 'Thank you.'"
Goodman delivered a heartfelt speech at the New Student Convocation inside JQH Arena shortly after the university bestowed what it called "an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters" to Goodman.
"I owe this school so very much," he said. "I can't say it enough."
Goodman, an accomplished actor and world famous star of stage, screen, and television, told the students and faculty his story of coming to Springfield in the early '70s and discovering his true calling, which wasn't football.
"I came down here to play football," he said with a grin. "It didn't work out. I wasn't very good."
Goodman then explained how acting became his lifetime love.
"I got a small role in a one-act play, and the next year I lost myself in a passion that I didn't know I had."
His degree in drama and acting experience at what was then Southwest Missouri State University eventually led to fame and fortune, though he struggled at first.
"I couldn't even get a job as a waiter." he said. "I must've had some kind of black cloud hanging over my head."
His luck eventually changed.
"When I went to New York City, all I wanted to do was to make a living at what I loved to do. One day I looked around and I got what I wanted."
Following his speech in the arena, Goodman held a casual, good-natured session with a handful of reporters and photographers. He repeatedly gave thanks, saying he credits his days at Southwest Missouri State University for getting him on the path to where he is now.
"I've been given so much in this world. I was in the right place at the right time here," he said.
He also expressed a profound fondness for the city of Springfield.
"The nights in Springfield in summer are unmatched anywhere else on earth. It's just heaven. I'm amazed how much it has grown. I got up early this morning and just drove around."
His unassuming and humble presence belies a man of his stature, both professionally and physically. In addition to contributing to more than 50 films, Goodman has starred in numerous television programs and Broadway shows. He has hosted NBC's Saturday Night Live 14 times and starred in each of the last two Academy Award Winning movies, Argo in 2012, and The Artist in 2011.
Those who have known him off camera and off stage say Goodman is humble to the core and has always been the person in any room who is least impressed with himself. Asked Sunday to name his favorite role of all those he has played, Goodman had to stop and think before saying offhandedly, "The one I get mentioned for the most is The Big Lebowski guy (Walter Sobchak), so I guess that one. The one on Roseanne (Dan Conner) was a pretty good deal too."