USC Annenberg School of Communication graduates on May 12.
© USC Annenberg/Brett Van Ort

Congratulations to the Class of 2017!

As part of the University of Southern California's 134th commencement ceremonies, USC Annenberg celebrated the conferral of bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees to 901 students on May 12.

More than 6,000 family members, alumni and friends of USC Annenberg attended concurrent ceremonies to cheer on the class of 2017. Director Willow Bay, incoming dean, led the School of Journalism gathering, while Director Sarah Banet-Weiser presided over the School of Communication ceremony.

USC Annenberg Dean Ernest J. Wilson III, who is stepping down at the end of his term next month, reflected on his decade as dean.

“At USC Annenberg, the stakes are really high,” he told grads, and their families. “It’s the future of democracy. It’s the future of the free press. It’s the future of free thought.”

Wilson reminded graduates to keep family and friends close as they pursue their careers. “Build into your life a search for joy, and that joy begins with having friendships and relationships and reaching out to other people. I hope the Annenberg school has been that for you.”

Photos of USC Annenberg’s 2017 commencement ceremonies are available on our Flickr page.

School of Communication Ceremony

Maurício Mota, 2017 commencement speaker

Maurício Mota is Founder & Co-President of Wise Entertainment, where he is executive producer of East Los High, the five-time Emmy nominated hit drama series. In its fourth season, it’s Hulu’s longest-running original.

Good morning everybody! Or “Bom dia” like we say in Brazil! This is a great day to celebrate such an important rite of passage after 4 years of learning, studying, and enjoying the BEST communication school in the World.

Isn’t that crazy? After this morning you will all proudly go to your Linkedin profiles to write that you graduated from the USC Annenberg School of Communication. And don’t forget while you update your Linkedin page to also check your FB, Twitter and SNAP profiles for all those moments you really don’t want your future bosses and co-workers to find out about.

Because as you know everything you say, write, and publish is your legacy, your personal brand, your reputation.

Maurício Mota speaks to School of Communication graduates.
© USC Annenberg/Brett Van Ort

And talking about reputation, I want to humbly thank three people whose reputations represent the richness, diversity, and forward thinking soul of this school: Dean Wilson, Sarah Banet-Weiser, the Director of the School of Communication and Willow Bay, future Dean of the School. And a special thanks to Henry Jenkins who I consider my Yoda and who actually introduced me to Annenberg.

I went to one of the best Communications Schools in Brazil, but because I got in when I was 16 and had to work, I feel like all these years of building projects and participating actively at Annenberg has become my opportunity to actually feel like a student. Like all of you.

I feel honored to be here today as a communicator, as an activist, and as an immigrant who considers the US his home. Three things that nowadays are blessings and burdens.

Being invited to speak to all 4 thousand of you is beyond personal to me. I can feel all my Brazilian, Spanish, African, Danish, and Jewish ancestors looking at me right now baffled at what their journeys, scars, victories, and losses led to. “Become your ancestors wildest dreams,” I read one day on a shirt and that made me smile.

So I want to ask all of you, your friends, your families and faculty to give yourselves a round of applause for becoming your ancestors’ wildest dreams!”

We’re going through weird and cloudy times where ancestry, origin, and last but not least, communication are clashing in a very divided world. Being a good communicator is to me the most important skill and profession for the age we live in now. Because as someone once said communication is 50% what you say and 50% what the other person understands. And that is critical in such divisive times.

I want to share three stories about why communication is the most important gift of all. It can be a weapon that kills and resurrects, a solution that pays bills and creates jobs, or a new model that can turn Hollywood upside down.

I’m the fourth generation of a family of storytellers, which is just a fancy name for competent communicators. My great-grandfather owned a newspaper and the whole family worked on it for him. Nelson, my grandfather, started working for him when he was 13.

A certain week, the newspaper published a story that destroyed the reputation of a woman. That same week the same woman came to the newspaper looking for Mario, my great-grandfather. “He’s not here,” someone said. “But Roberto, one his sons, is at this desk.” The woman crossed the newsroom and went to the publisher’s office. There was Roberto, already considered one of the most important illustrators in Latin America. She killed him right there. She was later released for defending her honor. Mario, my great-grandfather died months later, with the burden of guilt.

Those deaths caused by the abuse of the power of communication was a constant shadow over my grandfather’s head. And that tragedy also became fuel that helped him write 67 novels, plays, short stories, and books. During the dark ages of the dictatorship and censorship in Brazil, he created stories that not only reinvented playwriting in Latin America but also portrayed the first interracial couple, the first lesbian character, and innumerous strong and powerful women who didn’t want men and institutions telling them what to do with their bodies and their choices.

Yes, I know. Today, my grandfather would probably be called an evil, anti-family values, snowflake-of color-communicator.

But he denied the status-quo rules of what he should write, create, or communicate. He understood that the untold stories would come from the unheard voices, genders, and colors that weren’t seen in plays, TV shows, movies, and books. He died without the praise he deserved, but now he’s considered one of the biggest geniuses in the field and is lauded as the Shakespeare of Brazil.

So that is my communication story around death and rebirth.

My other story is about communication to pay the bills and create jobs. I’m not talking about “tweeting to pretend you are saving jobs” I’m talking real jobs for real people, if you know who I’m talking about (wink, wink). And this story is for all of you, but especially for the graduates who plan to invest into an academic journey.

During the late 90s my mother had a very solid career in communications and writing, which basically meant that making ends meet was hard. She was also an academic and she was applying for her PhD. Back then I was a 14 year-old uber nerd. I was super into Dungeons and Dragons and I basically suggested that my mom study the players for her PhD. And the University almost crucified her for studying an American pop-culture game played by kids. It was very, very hard not only because of the resistance from her peers, but because she had to create a new methodology to confirm her thesis. I became her research assistant and those years for me were a very important lesson about communication, innovation, and respecting your intuition.

Her thesis became the 1st in Latin America to examine Roleplaying Games, and it proved that kids of any age, gender, and socio-economic background who played roleplaying games were better communicators and storytellers than advertisers, scriptwriters, and the same communication and literature PhDs that criticized her for her thesis choice. And months later, when we were totally broke and selling lunch to buy dinner like we say in Brazil, I turned her thesis into a storytelling board game that I sold door-to-door into slums, public schools, and education conventions all over the country for two years. Now the game is present in 5000 schools. My communication hustle helped my family through one of the worst financial situations of our lives, created jobs, and elevated how kids communicate.

My last story is more recent, and has deep connections not only to communication but also to the groundbreaking work Annenberg does around new media, the future of content and inclusion in Hollywood.

In 2008 there was this woman, named Katie, who was VP of Communications and Programming of a non-profit in Vermont. She had spent many years implementing communication programs for social change in countries like Papa New Guinea, Ethiopia, Egypt, Jamaica, Mexico … She worked with the UN, Foundations, brands, and media partners to design serialized dramas that would address in a very powerful way the cultural and social issues that spoke to the Zeitgeist of those countries. She wanted to develop and produce a TV show for young Latinos in the US – one of the most underserved audiences of the galaxy - through the combination of traditional television and new media.

Let’s recap: A young woman wanted to design a multiplatform TV show for young Latinos in the most white, male, linear, and non-diverse markets in the world. That is where a communication and delusion walk hand in hand my friends!

So while she was researching for her project she interviewed Henry Jenkins, probably the Pope of transmedia studies and fan culture. And through that connection he recommended that she worked with me, a crazy Latino guy from Brazil that sort of understood that world.

“Crazy white woman meets crazy brown man,” sounds like a late night B movie, but it ends well.

So we designed a whole new methodology that involved organizations from all over the US at the city, state, and federal levels, as well as non-profits, foundations, community leaders, and activists. Qualitative and quantitative data that we turned into story, marketing, outreach; and a compass for writers, studios, and organizations. Not Nielsen demographics that keep treating people as stereotypes or boxes.

One of the findings was that 53% of Latinas by the age of 20 had been pregnant at least once. That’s more than 1 in 2 teen girls getting pregnant, yet there were no stories talking about this reality. So why not create an edgy, sexy, and layered teen drama that tackled sexual and reproductive health, right?

Nope, wrong.

We started presenting the “East Los High” show to studios, agents, big production companies. And they all would say: “You guys are crazy! No one will ever buy this show. Or watch it. The market is not ready for a show with an all Latino cast as protagonists. I love this mambo jambo thing of the research, but you can go back to the drawing board and make something else.”

But our partners outside of Hollywood were saying we had something YUGE in our hands and we should make it happen. And then we decided to produce a 6-minute pilot along with the social media/transmedia plan around it, and sent it to some people around town.

“We were crazy. You were right. Let’s set a meeting. We are interested. We just have some creative notes to give,” they all said.

And one of the main notes was:

- We love the show. But could it be less Latino?

After so many meetings like that we decided to shoot 24 half-hour episodes + 10 hours of transmedia content ourselves. With no buyer guaranteed. We produced it on a shoestring with money raised from grants and donations. Which by Hollywood rules is like the Armageddon.

After that we got multiple offers, I brought the show to Hulu, who back then understood we were developing a new audience and two weeks after its launch we beat Grey’s Anatomy on their platform. East Los High is Hulu’s longest-running drama, was one of the first streaming shows in US history, and became a pioneer in diversity in front and behind the camera.

And the crazy white lady married the crazy brown man and they made amazing blended boys. And have an incredible company and team dedicated to creating and producing content for underserved audiences.

So I wanted to send you off with these three narratives because what we need in the world is a new type of communicator who can conquer the challenges we’re all facing. You were communicators of the future fours years ago. But now you are the communicators of the present and we need to embrace a few things:

- The future of communication is female & blended and all about brands and institutions empowering women, people of color and their narratives and their rights. It is better for culture, society, and families and brings a lot of money to everyone’s tables

- The future of communication lives in the gray and not in the black or white of republican or democrat, rich or poor, coastal or heartland. The communicator who finds that right spot will thrive and bridge worlds.

- The future of communication is about finding the balance between making money and paying bills while creating new markets that allow new audiences to grow and thrive.

Because as Norman Lear said to me last week, “the other person is just another version of you. And it is time to be practical about it.” Thank you! Obrigado!

School of Journalism Ceremony

León Krauze, 2017 commencement speaker

León Krauze is News Anchor for Univision, an author, reporter, host of "En Boca de León", a nationally syndicated daily radio newsmagazine on Univision radio, and the Wallis Annenberg Chair in Journalism and Communication.

Good morning, everyone, and thank you all for being here.

I am truly honored to be here this morning, with the first generation of journalists and public relations professionals to graduate from USC during a particularly challenging time for both our crafts.

Leon Krauze speaks to School of Journalism graduates.
© Alan Mittlestaedt

For the first time in modern American history, we face a government that is openly hostile to what we do. This should not be taken lightly. A healthy and vibrant democracy is intimately related to a healthy and vibrant public discourse.

Believe me, I would know.

I am Mexican, and in Mexico being a journalist, an honest journalist, has always been a challenge. For years, governments in Mexico at every level have worked to undermine, diminish and threaten our profession. Active censorship –and self-censorship, which can be just as damaging– obstructs what we do every single day. And now, in the age of terror that has wounded so many places in Mexico, being a journalist has become a deadly endeavor. The one lesson I’ve learned from journalism’s plight in my home country is that no one, no one but the autocratically inclined – corrupt politicians, messianic figures, criminal organizations – benefits from a weakened journalistic community, from weakening our capacity to tell a trustworthy, captivating and truthful story. So, make no mistake: you are graduating in a difficult, aggressively secretive, morally demanding time.

And to this I say: congratulations!

What better time to be a journalist, a PR professional, a communicator? What better time to be out there, seeking the truth, asking uncomfortable questions, holding the powerful accountable, sniffing for the unmistakable stench of corruption and impunity!

Believe me: you have chosen wisely.

The question you now face is: what to do next?

I imagine many of you are already looking forward to facing our favorite prey: politicians. I don’t blame you. There are few things more entertaining and fulfilling than successfully confronting a powerful political figure. I know what that feels like. Three years ago, I asked Enrique Peña Nieto, the president of Mexico, about the possibility of El Chapo Guzman – whom Peña Nieto had just captured– escaping from prison once again. He told me it would be impossible for that to happen—his exact words were “it would be truly unforgivable”.

“Truly unforgivable”: nice, meaty words to hear from the mouth a president…

Imagine my journalistic glee when, just a few months later, El Chapo climbed down from his cell into a tunnel… and fled. Peña Nieto’s words in that interview with me haunted him for a long time, even after he managed to catch Guzman again. 

So, yes: there’s a deep satisfaction in holding the powerful accountable, in showing them the boundaries of their power, in being their fair but implacable adversary.

So I really don’t blame you if your dream is to go to Washington and run around the halls of Congress or sit inside the White House briefing room one day.

I understand the allure of politics.

But let me suggest a different path.

If what you want is to take a stand against nativism, against prejudice, against half-truths, against the assault on minorities, against dark money in politics, against misogyny, against corruption, against poverty and inequality, against that insulting, infuriating label that calls what we do “fake”, focus not on the powerful but on the powerless.

I became a journalist not to tell the story of the powerful and visible but to tell the story of the powerless and invisible.

I believe it’s more important to tell the story of an immigrant, a deeply religious father of eight daughters who decided to emigrate to a country he deeply admired and which he thought would provide a safe, respectful place to bring up eight young women; an immigrant who still works with his hands as a contractor, a man who built his own house and has managed to raise poised, elegant and incredibly productive American women (even if five of them are undocumented).

His story is more important than that of any politician.

I believe it’s more important to tell the story of an undocumented immigrant, a cheerleading, dancing high-school junior who dreams of going to college for a degree in Women Studies and defines herself as fierce feminist who just might also want to be like Beyoncé and can’t imagine herself going back to Mexico. A girl who embodies everything that’s good and admirable about American womanhood and yet still must live with the fact that she might not be able to legally work in this country, the country she rightfully considers her own.

Her story is more important than that of any politician.

I believe it’s more important to tell the story of an immigrant, a giant of a man who has worked 18 hours a day for the last thirty years of his life just to achieve his dream of owning a business (a delicious bakery) in Los Angeles, in which he mostly employs undocumented immigrants because everyone deserves a better life here in the United States. A man who, through his hard work, through his quintessentially American hard work, sent his kids to college and bought the house he grew up in back in Mexico for his ailing mother.

Yes: His story is more important than that of any politician.

And believe me: people want to tell their story. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

Five years ago, working for Univision, I bought a small plastic, round table at Home Depot, along with a couple of plastic chairs and a foldable cart to carry them around. I began to set up the table on corners chosen at random all around Los Angeles, with two cameras a safe distance away. Then I sat and asked people to join me. I wanted only one thing: to ask them about their lives. Nothing more, nothing less. No notes, no pre-production, no make-up for TV, no suit, no tie, no news anchor-y histrionics.

Only essential community story-telling.

I didn’t know what would happen.

I thought maybe people would just stand up after the first few questions.

Maybe, I thought, some might even feel insulted by my prodding.

The exact opposite happened.

People opened, like books suddenly dropped on the floor.

They spoke of their parents and grandparents and the sights and sounds of their childhoods. They reminisced about the last time they saw the small towns they were born in, never to return. They told me about their plight across the border, carrying their children in their arms, children who would grow up here, as American as any child born a citizen. And then they spoke of their lives in the United States, a country they appreciate, they value…they love. A country, by the way, they love just as much as the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Germans who all came before them. They told me of the businesses they had managed to build, of learning a language that was not their own, of singing the Star-Spangled Banner, of finding a place in a community that, slowly, became home. And they spoke proudly of their children going to college, earning a scholarship while their parents worked two or three jobs at a factory or a kitchen or even the fields of the Central Valley.

These are the stories I’ve heard, hundreds of them.

Each one a tiny piece of the great American tapestry.

Each one an affirmation of the great American ideal.

And yes, each one a refutation of nativist prejudice.

And that is why I urge you to resist the call of the great political bubble.

And that is why I urge you to resist the call of the four oppressive walls of the TV-studio.

Rein in your ego. Remember that you, as journalists and story tellers, practice what should be the humblest of professions. Because in the end, we ask questions. We only ask questions. We don’t offer opinions, we offer facts. We fight abuse not through activism but through investigation. We mount relentless opposition to the abuse of power not through our opinions but through our questions, our prodding, our uncovering.

A while ago, maybe twenty years ago, I faced a particularly difficult story about corruption in Mexico. I didn’t know what to do with the story I had. When I asked a colleague and dear friend of mine for advice he cryptically told me: “ante la duda, haz periodismo”. “When in doubt, go be a journalist”

I hated him then because the last thing I needed was some sort of abstract, Yoda-like advice.

But he was right…

When in doubt, go be a journalist.

Go out there.

Grab a camera, grab a microphone…but most of all grab pen and paper.

Look people in the eye. Listen to them. Really listen.

Ask them about their lives, take them back to childhood, ask about their dreams and anxieties, uncover their everyday struggles, break bread with them, find out where and how they fit in the great puzzle of American life.

Discover the common bonds that unite us all.

In an acrimonious time, in a time of division, anger and bitterness, there is no greater calling.

So, go: tell the story.

Tell the story not of the powerful but of the powerless.

Make the invisible, visible.

When in doubt, indeed, go be a journalist, go tell a story.