PBS NewsHour's Alcindor encourages ASU journalism graduates to advocate for change

May 6, 2021

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 Cronkite School's 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. Download Full Image

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.”

Jamar Younger

Associate Editor, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

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Honors students ring in the future at West campus

May 6, 2021

A socially distanced gathering marked the end of their academic careers, the beginning of a return to normalcy

On a recent Friday afternoon in Glendale, Arizona, the quiet stillness that has defined many a college campus this past year was suddenly and joyously pierced by the peal of the Bool Bell, traditionally rung in triumph by students of ASU’s West campus after having completed the last final of their academic career.

“I feel like it’s my wedding day!” shouted one student. “This is way better than your wedding day,” came the reply from another.

Slowly, more students began to join them, arriving in small, staggered waves for a socially distanced but still jubilant Barrett, The Honors College graduation celebration, one of several scaled-down, in-person celebrations held across all four ASU campuses this spring. While the universitywide commencement event remained virtual this year, the handful of in-person events gave many a welcome taste of normalcy.

“It's just a different feeling. I feel like I can feel everyone’s energy right now, and the happiness in the air, which I wouldn't be able to feel online,” said communication graduate Shiwani Sandhu. “Even just little things like seeing the twinkle in people’s eyes when they smile. I love those things! And it means a lot to us graduating that we get to see the faculty here on campus one last time.”

As students in maroon caps and gowns (and face coverings) arrived at West campus that afternoon, they were greeted by faculty in full commencement regalia (and face coverings). Their first stop was the Paley Gates to honor another West campus tradition: Having first passed through them as freshmen, the students now walked through the gates for the last time, complete with a photo op to mark the moment.

Diane Gruber, a principal lecturer in Barrett, The Honors College at West campus, was one of those faculty members waiting to congratulate students on the other side of the gates that day. For her, one of the biggest challenges of teaching during the pandemic was trying to read which of her students were in distress and which were doing OK.

”It was really difficult to do that through Zoom,” Gruber said. But seeing them step into their future now made up for it. “It's wonderful. It's terrible that we can't hug them! But at least we can see them in three dimensions.”

A constant hum of chatter and laughter filled the courtyards at West campus as students moved from the Paley Gates to the Bool Bell to Fletcher Lawn, where a giant flower arrangement spelling out ASU made for another perfect photo op and a smattering of well-distanced tables provided an area to safely enjoy prepackaged meals and one another’s company.

For Kaley Zepeda, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communication, this day was hard-won. After struggling with homesickness during her freshman and sophomore years, she finally began to feel more at home after becoming a peer leader and finding a sense of community at ASU West’s Communications Lab. Then came COVID-19, and everything — including the lab — went virtual.

“I was a little bit fearful of what it was going to be like, having to reconfigure my peer leader role into a virtual setting,” Zepeda said. “But the CommLab did a wonderful job making it feel just like it did in person.”

A ring of maroon and white beads bearing the ASU logo adorned Zepeda’s wrist that afternoon. It was given to her by an ASU staff member when she was a freshman and still struggling to find her place at the university. They told her to hang onto it so that one day, she could wear it during graduation.

“Every year, I hung it up in my dorm room,” Zepeda said. “I’ve been waiting to wear it for four years, and I’m wearing it today, and I’ll be wearing it Monday when I watch the virtual graduation ceremony with my family.”

More campus celebrations

Top photo: Barrett, The Honors College faculty pose for a photo during an in-person graudation celebration for honors students at ASU's West campus on Friday, April 30. Photo by Jenny Dupuis/ASU