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Commencement 2010: Dean Kirkman

SOC Commencement 2010 students with Kopple


Two-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker
and SOC commencement speaker Barbara Kopple (center) stands with
undergraduate speaker Molly Sauer (left) and graduate speaker (right)
Jennifer Dorsey.

School of Communication Class of 2010, on behalf of the faculty and staff, congratulations on your achievements.

For more than forty years, the School of Communication has inspired and trained its students in the traditions of our professions.  Many thousands have learned to be reporters, communication strategists and filmmakers – embracing the proven and honored best practices of their professions that have provided the grounding for your careers and your life-long learning.

But, the advent of the digital age has challenged the School to rethink and reinvent what it studies and teaches, to work at the intersections of our disciplines and across media platforms. The power of the Internet, the penetration of mobile media, the deployment of broadband, and the triumph of social media -- Facebook and YouTube and Twitter -- have forced us to anticipate, and help shape, new professional roles and dynamic media services. We are mapping the emerging landscape of cloud computing, semantic search and pervasive gaming.

How we create, share and use knowledge has radically changed.  In the networked, multimedia, participatory environment, users are actively making, aggregating, tagging, critiquing and funding content. Conversation, collaboration and community are driving media production and distribution.

In the good old days, the arts of reporting, storytelling or persuasion assumed a passive audience -- of readers, viewers, or customers.  But, there were always elements of interactivity in our work.  We knew that the letters to the editor sections of newspapers were enormously popular.  A discussion with a live audience after screening a film was so much more satisfying than an anonymous broadcast.  Public education campaigns worked when we could frame issues so that people would be moved to action.

But, in just the last few years, the relationship with the audience has changed – people, formerly known as the audience, I love that phrase – formerly known as the audience -- people who, with new tools and new channels, are engaged.

American University ties its mission and identity to that word, engaged.

We are proud that the National Study of Student Engagement regularly puts us at the top of hundreds of colleges and universities in the measures of engagement – the connections between students and faculty, the links to the city, the number of real-world class assignments and projects, the diversity of racial, ethnic, religious and political interests, the high value placed on independent critical thinking and the lessons of teamwork.

Engagement expresses our vision for the democratic process.  Thomas Jeffferson said he would rather have newspapers without government than government without newspapers and John Dewey said that conversation was the lifeblood of a democracy.

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- adopted by the United Nations in 1948 – Article 19 proclaims that,

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

To speak, not just to listen, not just to consume, but to produce - that is the human right of communication.

Article 19 raises profound questions for those of us working in communication. Whose information needs are met? Who has a voice?

In 1932, Bertolt Brecht imagined radio as an interactive medium. 80 years ago, he wrote, “Radio is one-sided when it should be two.  It is purely an apparatus for distribution, for mere sharing out.  So here is a positive suggestion: change this apparatus over from distribution to communication.  The radio would be the finest possible communication apparatus in public life, a vast network of pipes.  That is to say, it would be if it knew how to receive as well as to transmit, how to let listeners speak as well as hear, how to bring them into a relationship instead of isolating them.  On this principle the radio should step out of the supply business and organize its listeners as suppliers.” 

Like Brecht, you must imagine what the marvelous tools you have learned to use can be good for, how they can be used to confront reality, to cope with complexity, to clarify issues, to examine, to compare, to question, to doubt, to look beyond yourself.  Don’t talk down to your audiences, speak up to them.

Our student speakers don’t underestimate their audiences.  They are engaged in great issues of our time. They have demonstrated the power of communication as a tool for public knowledge and action.

Our undergraduate speaker is Molly Sauer.  She has earned a B.A. in Public Communication, B.A. in History and Minor in International Studies.

Molly’s honors capstone project was inspired by her study abroad and her volunteer work at a tuberculosis hospital in South Africa.  She investigated health communication strategies for tackling HIV/AIDS and TB in South Africa and proposed best practices for effective public engagement. 

Her advisor, Public Communication Professor Lauren Feldman, said, “Molly’s research promises to make a significant contribution to the fields of public health and communication, helping to inform the design and implementation of future communication campaigns to defeat TB and AIDS.”

Molly has had internships at The Washington Post and National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  Her scholarly and professional achievements and her passionate commitment to solving public health problems represents the best of the School of Communication.


Thank you Molly.

Our graduate speaker is Jennifer Dorsey. Today she receives the M.A. in Public Communication. Last year she received a B.A. in Political Science.  Jennifer has earned a Bachelors degree and a Masters degree from American University in four years.

For all four years at American, Jennifer has been engaged in fighting for the rights of women, as an activist, a leader and a teacher in the movement against sexual assault.  She served as co-director of Take Back the Night this year and she is an instructor in Rape Aggression Defense -- one of only two student instructors on campus.  As an undergraduate, Jennifer interned in Senator Hillary Clinton’s office and, when she studied abroad in London, she interned at Labour Party Headquarters. 

Jennifer’s ideas and ideals and knowledge and know-how embody our recruiting slogan: serious, passionate and professional.


Messages to the class of 2010

Filmmaker Barbara Kopple will speak at the American University School of Communication 2010 Commencement Ceremony

Graduating seniors share experiences and some advice with their classmates.

Check it out