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The national director of the Carnegie-Knight News21 program urged graduates of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University to "pay it forward," giving back to their professions and others as they embark on their careers.
Two hundred and thirty four students received bachelor’s degrees and 24 received master's degrees.
Petchel told graduates: "You have been given all the tools to be reporters, photographers, digital innovators, public relations specialists, anchors, producers and storytellers, so pay it forward and start now."
Petchel, former senior editor for investigations and enterprise at The Houston Chronicle, talked about her career as an investigative reporter and editor, a career she said started when she was a "dark horse hire" at ASU’s student newspaper, The State Press. In addition to The Houston Chronicle, she has conducted investigations for newspapers in Miami, Phoenix and Indianapolis and produced investigative journalism for television stations in Minneapolis and Miami.
"The subjects of my journalistic obsessions were most often poor and exploited … people unjustly convicted, young unarmed men shot to death by officers who then planted guns at the scene, women kidnapped in Mexico and used as sex slaves, disabled war veterans whose savings were pilfered by the guardians who were supposed to protect them," said Petchel, who shared in two Pulitzer Prizes while at The Miami Herald and has won numerous investigative reporting awards. "Every such story urged me on to the next."
"But what I revel in are not the awards I received and the journalism that I did, but the person I became because of them," she said, adding, "Not one of those stories, not one award ... would ever have happened except for my time at ASU."
The student convocation speaker was Kristina Zverjako, who studied broadcast journalism as an undergraduate at the Cronkite School. She worked as a multimedia reporter and anchor for Cronkite’s NewsWatch, the school’s award-winning student newscast, and interned at ABC News’ Good Morning America; KNXV-TV, the ABC affiliate in Phoenix; and KTVK-3TV, an independent Phoenix station.
Zverjako recounted how when she was small, her parents made a difficult decision to leave their native Russia for the United States. It was a decision that led her to the Cronkite School and to becoming the first in her family to complete college.
"Thank you, Mom and Dad for forever sacrificing your life and giving me an opportunity at the American dream," Zverjako said.
Dean Christopher Callahan said the spring graduating class is among the most accomplished the school has produced, winning more than 100 local, regional, national and international awards in the past year alone.
Walter Cronkite, the school’s namesake, who died in 2009, "would be incredibly proud of you," he told students. "We believe in your abilities and your dreams, and we are confident that you will be leaders in the complex and ever-changing world of digital communications."
STUDENT AWARD WINNERS
ASU Alumni Association Outstanding Graduate Award
Outstanding Undergraduate Students
Molly J. Smith
Outstanding Graduate Student
Highest Grade Point Average
This award is given to students earning a 4.0 grade point average and above for eight consecutive fall and spring semesters.
Cronkite Spirit Award
This award is given to students who best represent Sun Devil spirit, pride and tradition.
Inductees into Kappa Tau Alpha Honor Society
These students represent the top 10 percent of graduating journalism students in academic performance.