Missouri School of Journalism to Recognize 134 Students at Dec. 17 Commencement

Chris Hamby, Karla Valcourt, Shanna Grove

Ceremony Scheduled to Start at 1 p.m. at Jesse Auditorium

Columbia, Mo. (Dec. 5, 2017) — The Missouri School of Journalism will recognize 134 students at the 1 p.m. commencement ceremony on Sunday, Dec. 17, at Jesse Auditorium. Seating is open, and no tickets are required.

A link to a live stream of the ceremony will be available on the Missouri Journalism Calendar page.

Chris Hamby, Karla Valcourt, Shanna Grove
At left, alumnus speaker and award-winning investigative reporter Chris Hamby, MA ’10. Top right, student speaker Karla Valcourt; bottom right, master of ceremonies Shanna Grove.

Graduate degrees will be awarded to 5 doctoral candidates and 47 master’s students, 9 of whom earned their degree online.

Of the 82 undergraduates, 46 focused on some aspect of news: 6 studied convergence journalism; 10, magazine journalism; 6, photojournalism; 10, print and digital news; 12, radio-television journalism; 2, science and agricultural journalism. A total of 36 students studied strategic communication.

Of the graduating seniors, 32.5 percent earned Latin honors by achieving at least a 3.5 grade point average for the last 50 credit hours.

The top 10 percent of the School’s graduates will be inducted into Kappa Tau Alpha, a journalism honor society founded at the Missouri School of Journalism in 1910. The KTA reception will be held before the ceremony at 10 a.m., Sunday, Dec. 17, in the Fred W. Smith Forum, Room 200, in the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. The 12 new members of Kappa Tau Alpha are:

  • Doctor of Philosophy: Kellie Stanfield
  • Master of Arts: Amberle Garrett, Kamila Jambulatova, Heather Lamb, Hayden Lewis, Dan Roe
  • Bachelor of Journalism: Elizabeth Akre, Shanna Grove, Nina Jen, Morgan Mechelke, Jasmine Serrano, Jacob Shipley

The alumnus speaker will be Chris Hamby, MA ’10, an investigative reporter at BuzzFeed News. He won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for a series of articles detailing how prominent lawyers and doctors rigged a system designed to provide benefits to coal miners suffering from black lung disease. The stories led to numerous legal reforms. Hamby was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for a globe-spanning series exposing how companies have used a little-known international legal system to undermine public-health regulations and to avoid punishment for executives accused or convicted of crimes.

Hamby’s work also has been recognized with Harvard University’s Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, two White House Correspondents’ Association awards, and UCLA’s Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism, as well as awards from the National Press Club, the National Press Foundation, and the Society of Professional Journalists, among others. He has reported on a range of subjects, including labor, public health, the environment, criminal justice, politics and international trade. A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Hamby lives and works in Washington, D.C.

Karla Valcourt will present the “Thoughts of the Class.” She will receive her Bachelor of Journalism degree in radio-television journalism and a minor in French. Valcourt has reported for mid-Missouri’s NBC affiliate, KOMU-TV, and has held multiple internships related to news and entertainment television. She spent a semester studying journalism and French at Sciences Po in Paris, France. After graduation, Valcourt plans to begin preparation to enroll in medical school, ultimately combining her practice with her desire to tell health and science-related stories.

The master of ceremonies will be Shanna Grove, who will graduate summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in radio-television journalism and an Honors Certificate. She focused on both the reporting and anchoring as well as the producing interest areas during her studies. Grove produced in-depth investigative stories at KOMU-TV. A fourth-generation Colorado native, she interned at NBC affiliate KUSA 9News in Denver as the verify producer.

Student Speaker: Karla Valcourt, BJ ’17

Today marks a milestone for us all, one that we should be greatly proud of and one in which we give our deepest thanks to our instructors and our family for their support.

When we first began at this university, this day seemed so distant. It felt like it would never arrive. And while we’ve wished for this day to finally be here, there’s one thing we’ve wished for even more. It’s for people to stop asking us, “What will you do after graduation?”

For some of us, we have plans to begin our first job, pursue graduate school, or even take a much needed backpacking trip for a year – or three. While others of us simply have no idea what we’d like to do after graduation. And even while some of us may claim to know what’s next, we all find ourselves wondering who will we become after graduation?

The true magic of the Missouri School of Journalism is that from day one, the professors have outrageous expectations for their students; that’s what it felt like, anyway. When we began, our professors treated us as professionals – professionals in radio and television, professionals in magazine journalism, print and digital, photojournalism, convergence and strategic communication.

On numerous occasions, we’ve felt like we were dumped in a sea of water, or in Mizzou-speak, we were welcomed to the jungle to fend for ourselves. But we endured. We endured all of the deadlines, we endured a Monday-through-Friday economics class. We endured learning about things we didn’t think we needed to know about. We wisely endured the frigid temperatures by taking advantage of the connected journalism buildings. All while each exercise, grade, success, and failure has prepared us for this moment. What will we become after graduation?

What path you pursue is up to you. But, I can say who we are today. The Missouri School of Journalism has made us prepared professionals. We can proudly say we have matured from timid cubs to fierce Tigers, ready to take on whatever comes our way. Spending long hours finishing a story helped build endurance. Racking our brains for the perfect lead helped us to think outside the box. Our inability to take “No” for an answer has made us great conversationalists. Our ability to always demand an answer has made us persistent. Crouching down into uncomfortable positions to get just the right angle in photos not only helped us to be creative, but also made us great Instagram photographers for our friends. Following this day, we may find great revelation and insight into what exactly we are to do with our life.

We can hold on to knowing that we will stay true to ourselves, our values, and live up to the legacy of the Missouri School of Journalism. You see, this school has given us the necessary tools to succeed wherever we find ourselves in the future – whether that’s on our favorite local news channel, writing for that cool magazine, taking pictures of the Sahara Desert or helping an enterprise market its brand. We can hold onto knowing we completed something even Brad Pitt did not! We graduated from college!

This day might fade into the depths of our memories, but the Missouri School of Journalism will leave a lasting impression on us all and the people we encounter.

We can forever hold onto knowing that we endured and graduated from the best journalism school in the world. Congratulations to the class of 2017!

Commencement Speech by Chris Hamby, MA ’10

It’s really an honor to be here with you today, and, I have to say, it feels a bit strange. I was sitting out there where you are just seven years ago, and I feel only marginally more mature now than I did then.

I remember struggling to conceal my mounting irritation in response to the seemingly endless chorus of: “Congratulations. What are you going to do now?” To me, at least, there seemed to be a subtext: “Enjoy living in your parents’ basement.”

I imagine some of you have jobs lined up. For those of you who do, congratulations. But I bet many of you don’t know exactly what you’ll be doing. Or maybe you took something that was less than your dream job. I’ll refrain from the familiar “I’m sure everything will work out for the best,” or, “Have you thought about law school?”

Instead, I’ll just tell you my experience, which points to a principle that I’ve come to believe: No one has it all figured out.

I had always envisioned myself starting as a beat reporter at a daily newspaper and eventually working my way up to a spot on the investigations team. At the time, I felt that major metro dailies were the big leagues, and everything else was, at most, AAA. (Obviously, I don’t feel that way anymore, and I think there has been a significant shift in public perception on that point, too.)

So, at the time, I figured, I’ve got undergraduate and graduate journalism degrees, internships, clips; I should be able to land somewhere decent. I applied a bunch of places, and I got a truly impressive zero job offers.

So I accepted another summer internship. It was at the nonprofit online investigative news outlet The Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C. One of the staffers who helped select the interns later told me that one of the main reasons he picked me was because my application mentioned that I’d played baseball in high school and he was recruiting for the company softball team. I’m pretty sure he was only half-joking.

The newsroom was divided into teams based on subject matter, and I got assigned to the environment team. I have to admit I was a little disappointed at the time because I envisioned covering something a bit sexier, like politics or national security.

As it turned out, being on the environment team at The Center for Public Integrity was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I loved it. The team was outstanding, and the material was fascinating. We wrote about not only environmental issues but also labor and public health, and, to my surprise, I found it all captivating.

By the end of the summer, there was nothing I wanted more than to be hired on full time, and, thanks to my editor’s speaking up for me, I was. I got to learn on the job, working on several large investigative projects with other members of the team. Early the following year, I fell into a quick-turn story about the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster – specifically, that autopsies showed a surprising number of the miners killed had black lung disease. That led to a project in collaboration with NPR about a recent resurgence of the disease and the reasons behind it. And it was while reporting that story that I became aware of problems with the federal black lung benefits program. That, in turn, led to a series about how lawyers and doctors had rigged the system to cheat miners. And today, after years of reporting and writing, I’m in the editing process for a book on the subject. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been to the southern West Virginia coalfields, and I love going back whenever I can. I still keep in touch with miners, clinic workers, and small-town lawyers who are some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. It was something I absolutely never envisioned, and it has been the most profound and rewarding experience of my life.

I now work on the investigative team at BuzzFeed News, which was another in the long line of things I never would have envisioned. When the team’s editor initially contacted me, I’ll admit I looked at the email and thought, “BuzzFeed? Isn’t that the one with the lists and the quizzes and whatnot?” But the more I talked with the people there, the more I saw how dedicated they were to building one of the biggest and best investigative teams in the country. It was an incredibly difficult decision to leave The Center for Public Integrity, and I remain in touch with many people there and consider them friends.

At the same time, I have what I consider to be the best job in the world. At BuzzFeed News, our bosses have given us a dream job description: Go uncover and chase down the biggest, most important stories you can find. That’s really it. And they’ve backed that up with incredible support. For one recent project, I was trying to report on an international legal system from my home base in D.C., but I was running into obstacles. I was talking with my editor about this, and he said, unprompted, “Sounds like you need to go to Egypt.” Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, I was roaming the streets of Cairo, trying not to stand out (which doesn’t work too well when you’re 6’6″ and have red hair). After a month there, it was on to Indonesia for a month.

And, during those reporting trips, I woke up many days thinking, “I hope no one figures out I don’t know what the heck I’m doing.” I have that feeling a lot. When I was sitting there where you are, I thought that surely, at some point, I wouldn’t feel that way anymore. But I’ve since come to realize that that feeling doesn’t disappear and, more importantly, I wouldn’t want it to.

As journalists, and just as people, it’s helpful to realize how little we actually know. No education, no matter how good the school or how hard you work, could ever fill your head with all the things you’ll need to know.

What Mizzou gave me and, I’m sure, all of you is the humility to admit what we don’t know, the desire to learn, and the principles and techniques for doing that. Another thing that you all will have going for you is membership in the Mizzou Mafia, and I encourage you to keep in touch with your professors and to lean on each other and the whole alumni community.

I found out how important that is a few years ago. I was still relatively new at The Center for Public Integrity when, one day, I got a call at my desk from the receptionist in our office building. What she said was something pretty high up on the list of things you don’t want to hear when you answer the phone: “There’s a U.S. Marshal down here asking for you.”

So, of course, my mind immediately started racing through everything potentially illegal I had ever done, but it settled pretty quickly on the most likely possibility: Oh, I’m being subpoenaed. And I had a pretty good idea who was behind it, which also turned out to be correct: the Missouri Attorney General’s office.

I had worked on a freelance basis with a newspaper that shall remain nameless (it wasn’t The Missourian), and I had adapted my master’s project into a two-part series. It was about a wrongful conviction, and there were ongoing legal proceedings in Missouri in which the convicted man was seeking his release. I figured the Missouri AG wanted to call me as a witness, probably to try to get information about my sources for the stories.

So I went to the lobby, and the Marshal handed me an envelope. I was actually kind of disappointed he didn’t say, “You’ve been served.” I opened it, and, sure enough, the Missouri AG had summoned me sit for a deposition in the case.

Back in my office, my first call was to the editor I had worked with at the newspaper. He bounced the situation off his superiors and called me back to tell me their determination, which was that, because I had done the stories for them as a freelancer, they didn’t think it was appropriate for their legal counsel to represent me.

Obviously, I wanted to fight the subpoena because I felt strongly that it was an attempt to get information that clearly was protected by the reporter’s privilege. But it wasn’t that simple. Which laws governing privilege would apply – D.C.’s or Missouri’s? What was the case law regarding the out-of-state witness statute they’d cited in the subpoena? I was 26, alone, and clearly out of my depth.

My second call was to Mark Horvit, who I’m sure many of you know. I had him as a professor here at Missouri, and he was one of three members of my master’s project committee. I explained the situation to him, and, within about an hour, I had a team of lawyers specializing in media law at one of D.C.’s top firms who had agreed to represent me pro bono. (One of them was a Mizzou alumnus.) Over the following months, they helped me beat back the first subpoena, then another when the AG tried again.

That’s what it means to be in the Mizzou Mafia.

So, now you all are headed out into the world of fake news and alternative facts. This is a tumultuous time for journalism. But it’s also a time of great opportunity. We need honest, fearless journalism now more than ever. From the skills you’ve acquired here at Missouri and the connections you’ve made, you all are in a great position to do truly important work and to help restore public trust in both the media and the critical notion that there are such things as facts we can all agree on. No one has it all figured out, but your time here at Mizzou has undoubtedly given you a darn good start. I hope you’ll make good use of it. We’re counting on you.

Updated: August 15, 2019

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