By Andrea Richards
Four years ago, 17-year-old Greg Asciutto arrived at USC Annenberg from the small town of Albemarle, North Carolina. He’d only applied to two universities, both of which accepted him, but he knew after his first visit to USC that it was the place for him. Since then, he’s had work published in five countries, won a Hearst award, traveled to Cuba and also worked in Annenberg’s Public Affairs and Special Events office for his entire undergraduate career.
On May 16 Asciutto graduated, along with 315 journalism school peers—167 receiving Bachelor’s degrees, 148 Master’s.
“In the 6th grade he asked me for help with a word problem and I got it wrong—he never asked for my help with homework again,” his father, Peter Ascuitto, recounted as he waited with the hundreds of other proud parents in the 91-degree heat for the commencement ceremony to begin. In the final moments before the ceremony started, graduates braved the sun to reel in guests wandering the sea of white tents, their black gowns unzipped to beat the heat. Wedge sandals, bare legs, and leis made of crimson and gold orchids were the fashion of the day, and almost every woman, it seems, had a pair of flip-flops in her handbag. As Dean Wilson would exclaim in his opening remarks, the paper fans provided to faculty, graduates and guests were “the appropriate technology” for the day.
If heat and crowds put a dent in the crowd’s ability to use their gadgets—the flow of texts, selfies and even old fashioned phone calls slowed to a trickle due to network overloads—it was only a reminder that journalism is a profession built not on tools but on human fortitude and tenacity.
In his commencement address, Southern California Public Radio President Bill Davis urged the graduates to be there for each other during careers that will be both long and full of challenges. “You will get fired or laid off before you’re 30,” Davis said, even as he encouraged graduates to be optimistic about the future of media. His citation of a recent study that ranked newspaper as the worst possible career choice (below actor and parking meter attendant) was met with knowing laughter, the crowd too buoyant to be weighed down by such specifics. Davis reminded graduates that it was not only a command of digital technology that would allow them to “leap frog” those “condemned to pessimism,” but also their diversity.
Even as the larger media business roils, there was little pessimism under the tent; the graduates were ready to celebrate and everyone around them teemed with pride. As Barbara Ramirez, whose daughter Rachelle Ramirez received her Masters degree in Strategic Public Relations, exclaimed, “My baby girl never gave up on her dreams!”
No matter what comes next, for everyone who made an investment in these young graduates—from parents, to peers, to the actual Annenberg family (who Davis thanked in his remarks) —commencement was a moment to acknowledge how much had already been accomplished.
“It’s so surreal,” said Cherise Oaski, moments before she received her B.A. in Public Relations and Japanese. Soon, she’ll be moving to Tokyo, to work for a firm there. “I can’t believe how fast my time went here,” she said, looking wide-eyed to find herself at that unique, once-in-a-lifetime juncture between past, present and future: graduation.