Columbia, Mo. (Dec. 7, 2006) — The Missouri School of Journalism will recognize its 96 December graduates during commencement ceremonies at 3:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 15, in Jesse Auditorium. Family and friends of the graduates do not need tickets to attend. Seating will be open.
Graduate degrees will be awarded to 35 students, including three doctoral candidates and 32 master’s recipients.
Of the 61 undergraduate candidates, one studied convergence journalism; one, agricultural journalism; six, radio-television journalism; eight, newspaper journalism; eight, photojournalism; 18, magazine journalism; and 23, strategic communication. Of the graduating seniors, 50 percent are receiving minors.
The convergence journalism graduate represents the emphasis area’s first. Following the Missouri Method, convergence students learn to work in teams to produce stories for the Columbia Missourian, KBIA-FM and KOMU-TV as well as their Web sites and other digital services. The first full group of convergence journalism seniors graduates next May.
Jean Becker, BJ ’78
Overall, 18 graduating seniors, or approximately 30 percent of the class, will be recognized with Latin honors. These students have at least a 3.5 grade point average for their last 60 graded credit hours.
The top 10 percent of the School’s graduates will be inducted into Kappa Tau Alpha, a journalism honorary society founded at the Missouri School of Journalism in 1910 with the goal of uniting students of exceptional achievement from the nation’s leading schools of journalism and mass communication. This year’s inductees are:
- Brian Keith Greenwood
- Yun Jin
- Hans K. Meyer
- Heather Shoenberger
- Veronica Patrice Toney
- Heather Apodaca
- Elise Comtois
- Lauren Whitney Parrent
The alumna speaker will be Jean Becker, BJ ’78, chief of staff to Former President George Bush. As chief of staff since 1994, Becker has supervised Bush’s office operations in Houston, Texas, and Kennebunkport, Maine, in addition to overseeing the opening of the George Bush Presidential Library Center in 1997. She took a leave of absence in 1999 to edit and research Bush’s memoir, “All the Best, George Bush; My Life in Letters and Other Writings.”
Previously, Becker served as deputy press secretary to First Lady Barbara Bush from 1989 to 1992. After the 1992 election, she moved to Houston to help Mrs. Bush with the editing and research of her autobiography, “Barbara Bush, A Memoir.” Becker later assisted Mrs. Bush with a follow-up book, “Reflections,” published in 2003.
Before joining the Bush White House staff in 1989, Becker was a newspaper reporter for 10 years, including a four-year stint at USA Today where her duties included covering the 1988 presidential election and serving as a Page One editor.
Becker grew up on a family farm in Martinsburg, Mo., and was valedictorian of her country high school. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1978 with bachelor’s degrees in journalism and political science. Becker was recognized as an outstanding alumna by the MU College of Arts and Science in 1992.
Becker is a member of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board and recently served as a member of the Presidential Scholars Commission and FDIC Advisory Board. She is an ad hoc member of the advisory boards of The George Bush Presidential Library, The George Bush School of Government and Public Service and the C-Change Cancer Board.
The Master of Ceremonies will be Lauren Parrent, who will graduate with a major in strategic communication and a minor in psychology. From Cape Girardeau, Mo., Parrent has been a copywriter for Mojo Ad and a graphics intern at the Missouri State High School Activities Association in Columbia, Mo. She also worked for MU Residential Life and was active in the Baptist Student Union. She plans to pursue a career in the entertainment industry or as an advertising copywriter.
The student speaker will be Janelle Walker, a radio-television journalism major from Fowler, Ill. She has interned with the Minocqua-Arbor Vitae-Woodruff (Wis.) Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau and with the Columbia (Mo.) Convention and Visitors Bureau. Walker also gained retail experience while working at Starbucks in Hy-Vee, a Midwestern-based grocery store chain. She will begin a position as Convention Services Manager with the Greater Madison (Wis.) Convention & Visitors Bureau in January.
Further information about the commencement ceremonies is available from the MU Commencement website.
Jean Becker, BJ ’78
Dec. 15, 2006
Thank you very much, Lauren, Dean Mills, graduates, parents, and all the rest of you. What a huge honor for me to give this commencement address at my alma mater. My big fear, when invited, was that although I sat where you are now, it’s been 28 years. I don’t even know what convergence journalism is, and I’m still in denial about the existence of blogs. What on earth could I say that you would want to hear?
I have felt a lot better since learning two things: The Heidelberg is still open – I had pork tenderloin for lunch, still the best ever; and that, like me, all of you had to suffer through the wit and wisdom of George Kennedy and Brian Brooks.
So maybe we have more in common than I thought. Although, hopefully, for your sake, Professor Kennedy has mellowed out.
Anyway, I congratulate you for reaching this huge milestone in your life. No matter how many years or miles you put between yourself and this moment, I predict your education at this great journalism school will be with you always. I left my last newspaper job 17 years ago, but I am still a journalist at heart. That’s because I learned things here that I still use, sometimes in the most unexpected ways…so will you.
Before I start handing out advice – that is, after all, the only perk for giving a commencement speech – I would like to say a few words to those among you who do not yet have a job. Neither did I. Much to my dismay, I ended up taking a job at my hometown newspaper, the Mexico Ledger, circulation then of about 12,000 and a mere 50 miles from here. Oh the humiliation, as my best friends went off to the Des Moines Register and the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Much later, when I was at USA TODAY, I would occasionally speak to journalism students, and I will tell you what I used to tell them: I probably learned the most, and did my best work, at the Ledger. I covered everything from murders to school board meetings, from drunk drivers to the Miss Missouri beauty contest. It was real life, unlike what often goes on in Washington. Please don’t turn me in to my boss for saying that.
Anyway, don’t despair – your opportunity will come.
Now back to the advice thing…I have divided it in two distinct categories – advice for you as journalists, and advice for you as human beings. In today’s world, many people think the two are mutually exclusive. That perception is part of your challenge, so it is where I’ll start.
You are entering the profession at a time when most Americans don’t trust or like journalists. Some of this disrespect has been earned; some of it just comes with the job. If that weren’t enough, you also are becoming journalists at a time when a lot of people are predicting the end of newspapers and broadcast news as we know it.
I don’t mean to intimidate, but to energize. My fervent hope for your generation of journalists is that you find a way to bring the respect level back to the era of the Walter Cronkites and Hugh Sideys and Johnny Apples and even Tom Brokaw. If you don’t, the bloggers and cable news talk shows might truly take over, which would be a disaster for civilization as we know it.
The key is for you to always remember the importance of what you do, no matter what the format – Internet, newspaper, television or something that hasn’t even been invented yet. Information – no matter how distributed — is a powerful weapon, and you owe it to the rest of us to use it wisely. To be given air and/or news column space is a privilege not to be abused.
The good news for you, as Missouri J-School graduates, is you already know all this. Now your job is to execute and to remember. And therein lies the problem…a lot of journalists become a little too enthralled with themselves, or their titles, or their power – imagined or otherwise. They forget the nuts and bolts. So from someone who has lived and worked on both sides of this fence, here are the reminders I would love for you to keep permanently on your cheat sheet:
- Above all else, be accurate. I cannot tell you how important that is. Like most news consumers, if I read or hear one wrong fact in a story, no matter how minor, I immediately lose faith in the integrity of the rest of it. It is appalling how much inaccurate information is distributed these days. Some of it comes from sloppy reporting or research; some of it comes from arrogance. Just a few days ago I read an item in Newsweek magazine about Bob Gates, the new Secretary of Defense. The reporter had gotten everything wrong, from when he would be sworn in and why, to who would replace Bob as President of Texas A&M. It did not surprise me that the sources were all anonymous, which brings me to my next point:
- Beware of anonymous sources. They often will take you down a slippery slope. You should immediately be suspicious of someone who wants to talk off the record. Sometimes they have good reason, but often they do not. They either do not know as much as they pretend, or they have an agenda. I am not proud to tell you that I was recently an anonymous source for a national story. I lost sleep over it, which I should have. My information was accurate but I definitely had an agenda. Just be wary.
- Your opinion is not important. Your job is to report the facts and sometimes your observations. If you want to give your opinion on current events, then you need to be an op-ed columnist or Bill O’Reilly. Otherwise, you must learn how to separate the two. We don’t care what you think. We care about what you found out and what you saw and what you ascertained to be true…you can tell your friends over drinks what you think.
- Do not ever begin reporting a story thinking you know the end. People and events and issues are complicated. Despite what you’ve been taught, there are not two sides to every story. There are usually five or six. Don’t assume anything, especially about people. And whatever you do, don’t use other journalists as your source, or blogs or unofficial Web sites. The Internet is filled with false information, all of which now have a shelf life of eternity.
Now I could go on and on – I was desperate, for example, to somehow work into this section the fact that in 1988, my editor at USA TODAY made me ask all 15 presidential candidates the following question: If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be? You could call that a low point of my career. But rather than tell you this sad tale, I bring you advice from another Mizzou alum. Just this week I had lunch with Linda Lorelle, who for years was the anchor of the NBC affiliate in Houston. Since her perspective is so different from mine, I asked her to give me thoughts I could share. She took this assignment very seriously and sent me these three wonderful points, which I of course wish I had thought of:
- Pick your battles, but don’t be afraid to stand your ground. You have been trained at the finest journalism school in the country. You know the difference between news and entertainment. The line between the two that used to be so clearly defined is now blurred beyond recognition, especially in the broadcast medium. If you don’t fight to keep journalistic standards in place, who will? If you don’t pursue the stories that matter, who will? If you don’t ask the tough questions, who will? And what will be the price for a country that relies upon a free press as it faces some of the toughest challenges in its history?
- Don’t get caught up in newsroom politics. Be aware of what’s going on around you, but the best thing you can do is your job to the best of your ability.
- Whether you are a reporter, anchor or producer, get involved in your community. Remember that you don’t just work there, you live there. What matters to you very likely matters to your neighbors, and recognizing that will lead to some of your best stories. If you are on-air, you will achieve a certain “celebrity” status in your community. Use that for something other than getting a good table at the best restaurant in town. Use it to help make your community a better place.
Linda’s last point is the perfect segue for my advice to you as human beings. Much of what I’d like to share with you I learned from two people: My father, a Missouri farmer who never graduated from high school but who was one of the smartest and best persons I knew, and my boss, President George H.W. Bush, who no matter what you think of his politics, is one of the most principled and decent men I know. I have been blessed to have both of them in my life. So here goes:
- Believe in something larger than yourself. This can include everything from God, to giving back to your community, to being a good parent, a good son or daughter, a good brother or sister, or a good friend. There is a big difference between having a career and having a life. Be sure not to confuse the two. This does not mean you need to go out and change the world. Mother Teresa once said: “Every day we are called to do small things with great love.”
- If you have a five or 10-year plan, tear it up. There are a lot of unexpected opportunities that await you, and also some unwelcome bumps in the road. It will require an open mind to handle both. And don’t be afraid to take chances. I likely will be the only commencement speaker ever to quote both Mother Teresa and Wayne Gretzky in one speech, but I have always loved Gretzky’s quote: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” So don’t be afraid ever to take your best shot. Chances are you’ll miss quite a few, but it’s the ones you make that will be remembered.
- Finally, do not forget to enjoy life. Learn to put your Blackberry and cell phone away and do something random, something foolish, something fun. Your parents will be grateful to hear me say that I also recommend it be legal. Just don’t forget to live a full life. Climb mountains. Read trashy novels. Coach little league. Learn how to dance. Travel for pleasure. It will not only make you a more interesting person, it will make you a better journalist.
It seems appropriate to end with a quote from Walter Williams, who wrote in his Journalist’s Creed that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true. That’s not only great advice for us as journalists but also as human beings.
How blessed we all were to have this great school be part of our life’s journey. I’m honored to have been here at this stop in yours. Thank you very much.
Janelle Walker, BJ ’06
Dec. 15, 2006
The Missouri School of Journalism. The world’s first, and arguably the best school of journalism. That’s where you are right now. Each of us came to this school because we wanted the best journalism education that we could get. And the fact that you’re sitting here today means that you’ve successfully accomplished that.
You are sitting among a group of people – some may be close friends, and some you may not even know. We came from different cities, states and countries. We have different backgrounds and different futures.
But if you think about it, you, the person sitting next to you, and I have actually shared many of the same experiences and will have some of the same memories. It may surprise you to look at what we all have in common.
- Each of us remembers getting the letter that told us that we were accepted into the University of Missouri. That nice, thick piece of paper confirmed your future. Plus, we each received an odd set of numbers and letters called a “PawPrint.” You never thought you’d remember it; now you’ll never forget it.
- One of the best memories we all share is the delectable, exclusive to MU, Tiger Stripe Ice Cream. Remember the first time you tried it? You, like I, probably thought, “Free ice cream? What more could I want from a school?”
- We all remember the dreadful grammar exam that we took way back in J105. The test seemed impossible; it had at least 100 tricky questions. At the time, we thought, “How could one exam determine our future?” But eventually, after a try or two, we passed it and moved on.
- Remember when the course numbers changed? It seemed like just when you had all your class schedules planned for the next year or two, they went and confused us all. It took us a lot of extra work to figure out what classes you had to take to graduate.
- Remember the day that you received that all-important e-mail…the e-mail that confirmed that you were accepted into your journalism sequence! It seemed like it took forever, and at some points we may not have been too sure we’d make it in. But we all did!
- Another memory we’ll all share is when construction started for the new journalism building. Sure, it’s exciting that we’re getting new, ultra-modern buildings, though most of us won’t get to enjoy them. But remember the day they blocked off our sidewalks and put up the fences? They routed us all around and we had to make dirt paths to get us into the J-School.
We share all of these things, and all of these memories from the Missouri School of Journalism. But the most important thing we share is our Missouri Journalism degree. Isn’t it great to know that we attended a school where the value of our degree increases almost daily? We have a support system standing behind us wherever we decide to head in the future. We are Missouri Journalism grads. And we will always share that.