By Jackson DeMos and Gretchen Parker
As part of the University of Southern California’s 127th Commencement Ceremonies, the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism celebrated the conferral of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees to almost 900 students on May 14.
As Dean Ernest J. Wilson III (pictured, above left) congratulated Journalism and Public Relations students, he asked them to treasure their connection to both the Trojan and Annenberg families as they move into their work lives.
“We hope you will contribute to the broader society you will find yourself in, but that you will also reach back – as you move through your professional career – to the younger people in the Trojan family who right now are just in high school and who you will meet over the course of your career,” Wilson said.
Richard Rosenblatt to School of Communication (pictures of ceremony here) students: "an enormous opportunity for communication"
At the School of Communication ceremony, co-founder and CEO of Demand Media Richard Rosenblatt (pictured, right) spoke to the students graduating with degrees in Communication, Global Communication and Communication Management about communication, entertainment, and marketing and advertising.
"Think about messaging today," Rosenblatt said. "We know more people now use their phones for texting than telephones. How many people do Blackberry Messenger? Tweeting, Facebook, blogging, BBM, MMS, iPad, iPhone, applications? There are literally hundreds of different ways to communicate now that were never available before, and that provides an enormous opportunity for communication.”
He said the issue is figuring out how not to be lost in the clutter.
"So what you need to do in my opinion is think about how you use art and science," he said. "How do you take the data to figure out who wants the message, and how they want the message. People using an iPhone app are very different from someone using a Blackberry, so use the data to figure out what message to send them. Then use what you learned over the last four years on how to provide messages – how people and individuals and societies like to get messages, and deliver them. It’s what we call art and science, or bringing soul.
"Now what makes it so unique - graduating from the School of Communication – is you actually understand how to give messages. We never understood that and we made it way too 'techy.'"
"You were brilliant to get a communication degree because that is the platform of the future," he said. "So with that, I want to wish you all a happy graduation. Go on, be excited — this is the greatest time I have ever seen."
Dean Wilson said that students will benefit by being a member of the Annenberg family as they move out into the world and begin their own careers. He talked about the importance of their creativity, commitment and innovation.
"We hope that in the future when you go out in the world, it is your innovation that will help distinguish you because the field of communication is changing so rapidly and the field needs a new invention," Dean Wilson said. "What we’re hoping is you will use your entrepreneurial skills throughout your life. Whether you start your own business or whether you’re working for a nonprofit, how will you create new activities for other people around the world using your skills and your entrepreneurialism? We hope that you will also draw upon your leadership skills. You must possess the courage of your convictions, things we hope you learned at the Annenberg School."
Harris Diamond to School of Journalism (pictures of ceremony here) students: “Reject this assault” on facts and truth
At the School of Journalism ceremony, graduates in journalism, specialized journalism and public relations heard remarks from Harris Diamond (pictured, left), CEO of international public relations firm Weber Shandwick.
Diamond urged graduates to seek truth in their work, whether they’re pursuing journalism or public relations. Boundaries between news and commentary are blurring, but it is up to future journalists and public relations professionals to pursue “objective truths.”
Although we live in the information age, he said, “the idea of information itself is under assault.”
“The new paradigm holds that everything is opinion, everything is relative, everything is spin. Information is in the eye of the communicator. Communication is about controversy, not information,” Diamond said. “This is what I mean by the assault on information. The facts—the truths—that used to establish limits for PR and aspirations for journalism are under attack.”
Diamond, the first public relations professional ever to speak at an Annenberg School of Journalism commencement ceremony, joked that his remarks – coming from the PR side – might be unexpected.
“The flack, of all people, is lecturing you about truth,” he said, as his audience laughed. “And you haven’t even heard the worst of it. I’m also a lawyer.”
But public trust in journalism is not high, Diamond said. And that is a serious challenge for graduates – no matter which side of the communication business they’re on.
“If the information we are getting is unreliable; if the truth doesn’t matter; if facts don’t exist; if reality itself is a commodity anyone can manufacture; then communication is a service – whether provided by journalists or flacks – that nobody needs to buy,” he said.
He told graduates: “You have the power to reject this assault, to fight back, to take a stand.”
“What we need today, on both the journalism and the PR sides, is an ethical renewal, a return to the idea that objective information exists and that it sets the boundaries for what we do,” Diamond said.
Objective facts, he said, “set the boundaries of communication – whether we are journalists or advocates.”
Wilson also acknowledged the period of “tremendous uncertainty” that graduates are about to enter. But he emphasized that Annenberg graduates will always have the support of their fellow alumni as they make their way.
“There are hundreds and thousands of professionals in important positions out there in the real world – beyond these wonderful gates – who will reach back to help you. Whether it’s in a newsroom, in a PR firm, in government – there is a Trojan family and there is an Annenberg family there ready to help you.”
Wilson described the benefits graduates have enjoyed during their years at Annenberg: “a sense of the excitement, the innovation, the entrepreneurship that is possible in your profession.”
"And I hope you have gained a respect for truth and ethics from your professors,” he said.
But with the benefits come an obligation, Wilson told graduates.
“When someone comes to you and says, ‘I need advice, some guidance, some human contact who will listen to my concerns,’ whether they are from our school or from the broader human community,” Wilson said. “Draw on what you experienced here to take time in your own life to provide guidance for younger people. To the extent you do that, you will make us proud of you.”
USC President Steven B. Sample: "Success is determined by character"
In all, more than 10,000 graduating Trojans celebrated Commencement. Thousands of family members and friends strolled the walkways chatting in the languages of more than 100 nations.
It was the last Commencement presided over by Sample, president of the university since 1991. He will pass the mantle to President-elect C. L. Max Nikias in August. Sample is widely credited with bringing about an institutional rise at USC that is unparalleled in American higher education.
Sample reminded all that personal excellence begins within the individual.
"In the final analysis, what determines a person’s ultimate success is not so much his professional abilities or political brilliance as it is his character," he said.
He challenged graduates to ask themselves three simple questions as they plan their futures: How do you feel about money? How do you feel about children, both those you will someday call your own and those of your neighbors as well? How do you feel about God?
"If you should be so fortunate as to find answers for yourself to these three questions, you will almost certainly gain a better understanding of the meaning of life, of your place in the universe and of how you might live in productive peace and harmony with your fellow human beings,” Sample said. “And that, after all, is what living well is all about."