PBS NewsHour's Alcindor encourages ASU journalism graduates to advocate for change
Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour, called on the Cronkite School’s newest graduates to build their careers based on what inspires them, to be patient with themselves and to advocate for change in their workplaces.
Alcindor, who also is a political contributor for NBC News and MSNBC, delivered her remarks Monday, May 3, as the keynote speaker for Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s spring 2021 convocation.
The virtual ceremony celebrated the accomplishments of nearly 500 graduates, many of whom joined the ceremony in real time on YouTube and Facebook Live with their families and friends. The ceremony followed an in-person event last week during which graduates walked across the stage in the school’s First Amendment Forum to receive their diplomas and congratulations from the deans.
During Monday’s ceremony, Alcindor reminded graduates that this is precisely the time in history — when people are grappling with a deadly pandemic, the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and other threats to democracy — that the country needs a “vibrant and diverse press that is allowed to dig for truth, to tell it like it is and to directly push back on leaders when they seek to mislead the public.”
“You picked an amazing time to dedicate your lives to being professional witnesses, to being the voice of the American people, to holding leaders accountable,” she said.
Alcindor also encouraged graduates to pursue their life’s passion and purpose and make career choices based on what they care about.
“What is inspiring you? What do you stress about that others overlook?” she asked. “You’re already quite certainly a class of problem solvers and survivors, so focus on the areas that move you.”
Alcindor said she started out working at a McDonald’s, a shoe store in Miami and as a telemarketer. She urged graduates to “stay the course” and give themselves time to succeed — and to occasionally fail.
“Even if you’re graduating into what you believe is your dream job, brace for it,” she said. “When I started my career in journalism, the setbacks came quickly, and they will come for you, too. So stay the course, drown out the noise and go forward despite the hurdles.”
Alcindor’s final piece of advice — to do the right thing when no one is looking — was inspired by the last essay written by the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, which was published in The New York Times after his death last summer.
She referred to political journalism as her “good trouble,” a term popularized by Lewis, and implored future journalists to take a stand when they see something wrong. She encouraged journalists of color and members of other underrepresented groups to speak up and use their experiences to help improve their places of employment.
“You might be the only Black person on the social media team or the only person of color in the morning news meeting. Maybe you’re the only person from a rural town at a big city paper or the only woman on the editorial board. I tell you, speak up. Don’t be afraid to let your experiences allow you to make the places where you are better,” she said.
The convocation also paid tribute to Cronkite graduate Paulina Verbera, who died in a car accident in Mexico in January. Interim Dean Kristin Gilger remembered Verbera as a “great student and remarkable person” who was a leader on campus and always stepped in to help others.
Of the 496 graduates, 388 received bachelor's degrees, with 146 earning a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and mass communication, 61 in sports journalism, 128 in mass communication and media studies, and 53 in digital audiences.
The Cronkite School also awarded 107 master’s degrees. Eleven of those students received a Master of Mass Communication while two earned a Master of Arts in sports journalism. There were two graduates who received a Master of Science in business journalism and 92 who earned a Master of Science in digital audience strategy. One student was awarded a PhD in journalism and mass communication.
Dean Gilger congratulated the graduates and underscored the importance of a robust press during these pivotal times.
“You are living through historic times, times when truth — and democracy itself — are being tested, when social constructs are being challenged, when we are being asked to reevaluate and reorder the way we think about ourselves and others. Journalism is never more important than in moments like these,” she said.
Student convocation speaker Harrison Zhang praised his classmates for “trusting the process” as they negotiated a college experience quite different from the one they had expected.
“If the last few years have taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected,” Zhang said. “During our time at Cronkite, though, we’ve been shaped by the amazing faculty, friends, family and interview subjects to grow into the professionals we are today, ready to face the world ahead of us.”