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Commencement 2003

Dean Larry Kirkman's Remarks

School of Communication Class of 2003, on behalf of the faculty and staff and alumni of SOC, congratulations to you on your achievements, and congratulations to your families. Today, we also honor their contributions to your success.

Your education has been framed by 9/11, snipers, anthrax and Iraq. It has been a solemn time, a world of crisis and conflict, demanding maturity and resilience. These perilous times have tested the University's commitment to public service and social justice -- defending human rights abroad and civil liberties at home, closing the gap between economic haves and have-nots, encouraging citizens to speak up and speak back to the powers that be. Such causes are formidable even in times of peace and prosperity.

But you have learned how media can present the evidence and testimony that drive public debate. You have learned how media can serve as a champion for the common good. Together, in public forums on campus, we have asked the toughest questions about the practice of communication - questions about truth and transparency, credibility and conscience. Now more than ever, the professions of communication have a calling. The values you have learned and practiced in journalism, public communication and visual media are at the heart of our democracy.

Dorothea Lange said: "While there is a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see." You have learned to see and to listen and to share your vision. Your education has provided compass points for your careers in communication. Historical context and global perspectives, demanding professional standards, the high value placed on independent critical thinking and the lessons of team-work - these have provided the grounding for your careers and for your life-long learning.

I hope that you have come to appreciate what it means to be supported in a community of learners, where there is genuine reciprocity, where people listen to and learn from each other, where they share ideas and ideals.

I've got two stories to share with you. One is about respect and the other is about slime mold. Yes, s-l-i-m-e m-o-l-d.

In 1988, the United Nations organized the first children's parliament. It took place in Brazil and involved hundreds of children from around the world. A little Brazilian boy, a street child, traveled scores of miles across Brazil to attend the meeting. He was asked by reporters covering the conference why he was there, what his biggest need was. Was it education? Was it shelter? Was it food?

His answer was: Respect.

Slime mold is more fungus than animal. It moves very slowly, too slowly for the human eye to track its movements without a time-lapse camera. You can only see it on damp and rotting logs when the weather is bad. But when the weather is good, it vanishes, overnight and without a trace. How did it suddenly move so fast? Where did it go? And then, when the weather turns bad again, it appears on the same old log as swiftly and magically as it disappeared.

Actually it never vanished at all. It just separated into hundreds of thousands of tiny, individual organisms, too small for the eye to see. When the weather is good and food is plentiful, each individual forages alone. But as soon as the weather turns bad, they all join forces and work together - they become one networked organism.

I hope we can be as clever as slime mold and as useful to each other.