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Dean Charles Bierbauer - Doctoral Hooding Remarks

May 11, 2013

President Pastides, colleagues, graduates, guests…

It is our tradition to have a member of the faculty speak at this ceremony, rather than a celebrity, business mogul or politician more familiar at commencements. I hope you didn't think this was the Darius Rucker event….

I will tell you I was quite surprised to be asked, but honored.

I could speak about the nature of information and communications today: More information than ever. More ways to get it to you. Pick a screen, any screen. Less reliability. Who sent this? Scant verification. Do you footnote tweets?

More responsibility on you since you are all de facto publishers and all consumers or targets, depending on your receptivity to the barrage. That's about it. Thank you . . . applause . . . return to seat.

But let me take another path. I'd like to share a thought about this event.

This is both our most esteemed celebration — the conferring of doctoral degrees — and our most colorful. The regalia sort us by categories — discipline, institution, rank. The orange of engineers, the crimson of journalism, the lemon, the green, the pink. Some of us have cool hats, Harry Potter hats, like Dean Scheyett and Dr. Kelly.

We are a spectrum, which is not a bad way to think of the breadth of the university. But what defines us? Regalia? Hardly.

This ceremony is not entirely a shared experience for me. I have participated in it here three times a year since 2012 and am always exhilarated when students from our college's two doctoral programs are hooded. But my own are honorary doctorates conferred by other institutions, I trust, in recognition of my career as a journalist.

When I came to USC in 2002, I was new to the realm and ritual of regalia. My graduate degree from Penn State was conferred in absentia. I was covering the Cold War in Europe. Faced with a conundrum when I arrived here, I did the wise thing. I asked the provost's office for counsel. I was told to wear the doctoral hood I'd been awarded. Then I bought the lightest weight gown I could find. We hold these events in May and August. I hope, at least, that I have honored you and this institution in the process.

Today, I find myself sandwiched among a former secretary of defense — Bob Gates, a former ambassador — Phil Lader, and a former student in our School of Journalism and Mass Communications who communicates musically to considerable masses. Walk out on the street and show people these three names — Gates, Lader, Rucker — and you know which name they are going to recognize. There is no statue in Five Points commemorating the successes of any secretary of defense.

Yesterday, Bob Gates speaking at the first of our spring commencement exercises described students on campus — all Frisbees and backpacks — and soldiers in Afghanistan — weapons and body armor. Similar ages, similar goals — jobs, careers, success, survival — but dramatically different circumstances. Paths that diverged somewhere around age 18.

Darius Rucker, who was awarded an honorary doctorate and spoke at this morning's commencement, said as a student "I was a dreamer." Then another journalism student heard him singing in the shower. You know the story. Today, as Darius said, "you call me Doctor."

Many of you are on a path to bring your doctoral expertise to academe or other areas of education. The provost last week held a dinner recognizing those among you who are taking tenure-track positions at universities far and wide. As you have likely discovered, few career paths are very linear. Think of how you got to this point. Who among you plowed straight through . . . bachelor's, master's, doctorate?

My counsel is that you should give some thought to your second career. Maybe not today. But some day. That's not a bad thing.

I am a product of the Yogi Berra school of career planning. Yogi Berra? I asked students in my class this semester who Yogi Berra is. One said he's a cartoon character. But these are 21-year-olds. A few knew he'd been a Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees in the '50s and '60s. Historians, please note the transitory nature of fame.

An historian speaking here would have Churchill or Toynbee to draw on for these remarks. An English professor: Shakespeare, Chaucer, Faulkner. I'm a journalist. I have the philosopher/athlete.

Today, Yogi — we're all on a first-name basis with celebrities — is more likely to be remembered for his aphorisms — actual, attributed or apocryphal — than for his athleticism. That gets us back to career planning. Yogi's advice: "When you come to the fork in the road, take it."

When prospective undergraduate students ask what their career opportunities will be — or, even more likely, when their parents ask what future there is in journalism — I tell them that if they want a linear career, major in accounting. My daughter majored in accounting, so I can get away with that. And after a number of years as a CPA with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, she decided she was "tired of working with numbers and wanted to work with people." Aha, a Yogi Berra "fork in the road." Her HR career is now quite successful.

In today's milieu of mobility, we no longer expect linear careers, whether in the corporate or academic world. Young people are advised they will have multiple employers and may, almost as likely, be themselves entrepreneurs at some point in their careers. Build a killer app, sell it to Google or Amazon, use the millions to start your next company. Isn't that the new American dream?

I came to USC via what poet Robert Frost might call the road less travelled toward a deanship: a professional career that included more than a decade abroad, a score of years in that other alien land . . . the nation's capital or the state of mind called "inside the Beltway."

Initially, I was a candidate to be dean of the then College of Journalism and Mass Communications. But I received a message from the chair of the dean search saying, "By the way . . ." You should always be wary of those three "red flag" words . . . by the way. We're contemplating merging the journalism school and the College of Library and Information Science. Would you tell us 'in 500 words or less' what you think of that.

A fork in the road.

And so, we velcroed two academic units together into the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies. There's logic to it. Information and communication lie on a continuum, though one with many opportunities to fork off onto other roads. And about the long college name, Mr. President and Provost Amiridis. I'd love to tighten it. Doesn't fit in a tweet.

To put it rather improbably, our two schools are conjoined fraternal twins. Each has its own personality, culture and accrediting body. And for those of you who have labored in other corners of the university en route to your doctorates, I'd remind you — as our hooding here reminds us — of how many facets there are to this sparkling diamond of a university.

I mentioned a moment ago the recent evening where we heard Provost Amiridis say that in his academic career he is "most proud of his doctoral students." That says a lot, and it says something about the importance of the recognition you are receiving.

One thing of which I am most proud is the creation of a doctoral program in our School of Library and Information Science. That is no mean accomplishment. In an entirely different context, and with apologies for what the TV anchors like to call its 'graphic nature,' a journalistic colleague of mine, Bernard Redmont, who later became dean at Boston University, described his years of covering the Paris peace talks that ended the Vietnam War as akin to 'making love to an elephant.' It's hard work, it takes a long time to see any result, and you are liable to be crushed by the experience.

Creating a doctoral program from scratch was hard work and had a long period of gestation. But the birthing was exhilarating. And we've seen the progeny over the past year or so as the first of our Ph.Ds have walked this stage.

The credit goes to our directors and faculty, especially Dr. Sam Hastings, Dr. Jennifer Arns, and professors emeriti Dan Baron and Bob Williams. Though we hood but a few each year, we believe we add to the stature of the university through the doctoral programs in both of our schools.

What I have truly relished about both of my related careers in journalism and academe are the forks in the road, the unexpected, the 'by the way' opportunities. My apologies and my thanks for your forbearance in allowing me to dwell so much in these remarks on my own experience, well, mine and those of the esteemed Mr. Berra.

When I am asked to speak at undergraduate commencements, or high school graduations. I tell those young people, much as I am suggesting to you, though I suspect you know it already, that the joys and trepidation — even the thrills of uncertainty, lie along the roads less taken. The road you have been on these few years is itself a road less taken by a small percentage of those who even go to college. And there is surely a fork ahead, perhaps just outside the doors of the Koger Center.

Congratulations. Safe travels. God speed.

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