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
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
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?
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
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,
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
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.