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2009 Commencement: Dean Larry Kirkman

American University president Neil Kerwin; Susan Zirinsky, executive producer, CBS News; School of Communication Dean Larry Kirkman at the AU SOC 2009 Commencement

2009 Commencement

American University president Neil Kerwin; Susan Zirinsky, executive producer, CBS News; School of Communication Dean Larry Kirkman at the AU SOC 2009 Commencement

Class of 2009, on behalf of the faculty and staff, congratulations on your achievements. Today you join thousands of SOC alumni working across the communication professions and around the world, a community of knowledge and know-how, of ideas and ideals.  There's no easy map for your careers in the emerging digital landscape, but you can anticipate and help shape the vigorous and inclusive communication environment we all want to work in and live in.

You are prepared to succeed in a society increasingly defined by media and communication.  You are empowered to make a difference in our politics, culture, and economy.  Historical context and global perspectives, demanding professional standards, the high value placed on independent critical thinking, digital media skills and the lessons of team-work--these have provided the compass points for your careers and are the grounding for your life-long learning.  You will drive innovations in public communication, experiment with new models for reporting, and create new forms of storytelling.

Every six years, SOC goes through an intense process of reaccreditation.  This past year, we wrote a comprehensive self-study in preparation for a visit by a team of five leaders in our field -- academics and professionals.  They spent four days on campus inspecting every aspect of the School.   Last week, on May 1, the Accrediting Council gave SOC the highest marks on all nine standards. So, SOC has also been examined and is celebrating its achievements.

The site-visit team's report praised the quality of the work produced by our faculty and students, the innovations in our curriculum, the importance of our centers and institutes, the substantive involvement of alumni and the success of our professional partnerships.

They found, "an engaged, enthusiastic student body; a first-rate, caring and supportive faculty of accomplished professionals and productive scholars; curriculum at the leading edge of the field with a balance between theoretical and conceptual and professional courses; an outstanding record of professional and public service; a clear sense of vision and a strong plan of action."

It is a deeply gratifying affirmation of our work and our mission.

We believe in the value of self-reflection and of review by our peers. It is at the heart of our theory and practice of education.

We describe our students, in recruiting materials, as serious, passionate, and professional. We should also say: creative, playful and funny.

Drew Rosensweig, our undergraduate speaker today, is all of those. He's a film fanatic, graduating with a Major in Film and Media Arts and a Minor in Cinema Studies. Drew studied abroad in Prague at FAMU, the Czech film conservatory. FAMU and SOC are members of CILECT, the International Association of Film Schools. He served as Music Editor of The Eagle and he produced a film on the life of Marian Anderson for the Washington National Opera, shown in DC high schools in honor of Black History Month.

SOC has roots in the Edward R. Murrow tradition which we celebrated at the Newseum this year with our screening of George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck, as part of our on-going series, Reel Journalism with Nick Clooney. It's a film that reflects the values and independent spirit of American University -- a story of journalists standing up to lies, exposing the truth and helping to change public policy.

Our broadcast journalism program was started in 1968 by CBS veteran Ed Bliss Jr. who wrote for Murrow and was editor of the CBS News with Walter Cronkite. Ed set high standards for clear writing and meticulous reporting and he trained and inspired a generation of journalists, including Susan Zirinsky, who followed in his footsteps at CBS. Ed said, "good journalism is good for the country, and bad journalism is not…..Skill is not enough. Skill is no good without integrity. No good without honesty. No good without truth."

In the spirit of this tradition, we have recently launched the Investigative Reporting Workshop under the leadership of professors Charles Lewis and Wendell Cochran, to explore new models to produce and sustain public service media.

On March 16, the Workshop released its first project, BankTracker, an analysis of government data, mapping the financial health of every bank in the nation, including troubled assets and bailout funds, exposing just how dangerous conditions have become.  BankTracker was released on MSNBC.com and has received nearly a million and half page views.

Professor Lewis is another link to the CBS tradition; he was a producer for 60 Minutes. He left CBS News 20 years ago to found the Center for Public Integrity, the pioneer nonprofit organization for investigative reporting. Many SOC students and alumni have worked at CPI on its award winning reports and five years ago we established a joint graduate fellowship. Your graduate speaker, Kat Aaron, is an investigative journalism fellow and staff writer at the Center for Public Integrity.

Kat is a watchdog on the economic beat. She's a lead contributor to "Who's Behind the Financial Meltdown," a groundbreaking report on subprime mortgages released by the Center for Public Integrity this past Wednesday. She exposes the history of attempts to reign in abusive loan practices in her article "Predatory Lending: A Decade of Warnings: Congress, Fed Fiddled as Subprime Crisis Spread."

Now more than ever the professions of communication have a calling – to provide the evidence and testimony that frame public debate, to speak up, and speak back, to the powers that be.

Kat asks the toughest questions about the practice of communication--about truth and transparency, credibility and conscience, how media can serve as a champion for the common good. She speaks to the deepest values of the School of Communication.

Please join me in congratulating Kat Aaron who receives today her Master's in Journalism and Public Affairs.

A new SOC

The new SOC building, aerial view

The architect's rendering of SOC's new home--a renovated McKinley Building.

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