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Commencement 2005

Dean Larry Kirkman's Remarks

SOC Class of 2005. On behalf of the faculty, staff and alumni of the School of Communication, congratulations. Today, you make the transition from students to alumni. You join a network of more than 8,000 SOC alumni working across the communication professions and around the world.

You will always find a supportive community in SOC. As one of our alumni recently put it "You are an SOC alum forever. It's like your family. Or the place where you were born. It's something you can never change."

She's right, of course. And, it is a remarkable family. We have Oscar winners and Emmy winners. Editors at the New York Times and The Washington Post. Executive producers of Everybody Loves Raymond AND 48 Hours Investigates. Senior executives at the largest public relations agencies and leaders in nonprofit organizations.

At an alumni event in Hollywood, comedian Bill Maher was our host. At the end of the evening, he complained "There's an AU mafia and I want to be part of it."

Well, you are part of it.

Our vision for SOC is a communication laboratory, where students, faculty and alumni listen to and learn from each other. The participation of alumni in the life of the School --and that means you now -- is central to our vision.

We want you to report back from the frontlines of your professions. SOC as a laboratory makes sense only if it is informed by your real-world experience.

Together, we can ask the toughest questions about the kind of communication environment we want to work in and live in. We can imagine a vigorous and inclusive public culture. But, together, we need to anticipate and help shape it.

This past week, I Googled "commencement speeches." There were 282,000 links. At the top of the list was Jon Stewart -- at the College of William and Mary last year.

Jon Stewart's popularity and, more important, his influence has special significance for us as a School of Communication. In a poll conducted just before the election, Stewart was tied with Tom Brokaw as the most trusted TV anchor among people your age. Stewart asks the questions journalists should be pursuing and raises the issues politicians are avoiding. He's become a symbol of the complicated future you face in your professions.

A new survey of 18 to 34 year-olds has Jon Stewart on the cover. This Carnegie foundation report confirms that your generation is abandoning newspapers and national television networks for the Internet, tapping into new information services and reading blogs. You want attitude and trusted sources. You want to be able to speak out and talk back.

John Seely Brown, former chief scientist at Xerox, describes a digital landscape where young people "learn through linking, lurking and trying." It's a communication environment where experimentation and improvisation rule -- more open, authentic and collaborative.

That's the big idea at least. But, it is still emerging and undefined. As Andrew Heyward, the president of CBS News put it recently, "We are nowhere on storytelling for the new media."

Whether you become journalists, filmmakers or media strategists, you will have to be pioneers. These aren't empty words. The business, ethical and creative problems to be solved are real and probably more formidable--more structural--than any since the introduction of television.

Your education has been framed by 9/11 and the war in Iraq. It has been a time of crisis and conflict, demanding maturity and resilience, requiring a global perspective.

I've been thinking about you and The Hole in the Wall experiment in India. We often think of India as a Silicon Valley, our help desk, a phone call away, but, as you know, 350 million people live there on less than a dollar a day.

One Indian computer scientist created a bridge between the haves and the have-nots. He put a computer in the wall of his office facing a wasteland where impoverished children played. The children asked, "can we touch it?" and he said, "it is on your side of the wall, you can touch it." In a few days, the children were browsing the internet, taking up a quest for information, going on a global tour, reading news sites, using a calculator, listening to stories. One young boy was asked to define the Internet and he answered it is "that with which you can do anything."

How will you connect -- in your communication careers -- to those Hole in the Wall children playing on the internet? They are part of your digital generation too.

Our SOC student commencement speaker is someone who has grasped this global perspective. In her study abroad semesters, she worked in India at an orphanage and in Costa Rica in a program to save the Rain Forest. She graduates today with an interdisciplinary degree in visual communication and international studies. Her business card could read photography, news production, public relations and acting. She was the KPU photographer for 3 years. She worked as a Producer's Assistant at ABC's Good Morning America. You could see her in a feature film, Stepford Wives, and 8 episodes of All My Children. She represents the world of good choices you have in front of you. I'm pleased to present Leslie Gant.