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By Jamar Younger
The 2020 Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication convocation was an event unlike any other in school history.
Instead of a single convocation speaker, 27 of the nation’s prominent journalists and communications professionals addressed the graduates through video messages, reminding them that their skills are needed more than ever during this unprecedented time. They included former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, ESPN host and commentator Michael Wilbon, PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff, former “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer, and CNN Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour.
Dozens of Cronkite faculty and staff also shared encouraging messages, well-wishes and career advice through recorded videos. And Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan stood in an empty First Amendment Forum to deliver his final commencement speech after 15 years at the school. The ceremony also featured more than 200 photos of students taken during their years at the Cronkite School.
Afterward, the students gathered in virtual Zoom rooms to spend time with some of their favorite professors as they reflected on their experiences at Cronkite.
The ceremony, held on May 12, marked Cronkite’s first virtual convocation, celebrating the accomplishments of more than 400 graduates. They, their families and friends joined the ceremony in real time on YouTube and Facebook Live feeds. Views totaled more than 5,000 on Facebook and more than 2,000 on YouTube.
“Feeling super thankful for the special #CronkiteConvocation I was able to share with friends and family everywhere,” graduate Pauline Verbera posted on Twitter shortly after the ceremony.
“I celebrated my college graduation at home surrounded (at a safe distance) by the people I love. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my journey, from California to Phoenix to Miami. I am beyond blessed. Congratulations to the Class of 2020!” wrote graduate Danielle Malkin in a Twitter post.
Kristen Guzman, whose daughter Karenna was one of the Cronkite graduates, wrote, “You and your grad crew exceeded our expectations with the online graduation! Thank you for turning such a sad situation into a memorable event for my daughter. She was thrilled with it, which warmed our hearts!”
In their recorded messages to students, journalism professionals noted the unusual circumstances in which graduates find themselves and the challenges ahead.
“What a time to dive into the industry!” said ABC15 News anchor and Cronkite alumna Katie Raml of Phoenix. “We need your fresh eyes right now and your creative spirit, and your excellent commitment to fabulous storytelling. We need that now more than ever.”
Woodruff reminded graduates that they are more uniquely prepared to enter journalism and communications careers than any other class in recent history.
“You are the rarest of all student journalists. The very fact that you’re graduating is part of the news story of a lifetime,” she said. “We as a nation, and you, as the bright future of this nation will not just get through, but you will flourish.”
Callahan lauded the graduates for persevering and exceeding expectations as the school transitioned to online learning in the midst of the pandemic.
“You faced the single biggest danger to our country since World War II, a threat that seemed to come up and hit us with no warning, and you took on the challenge in remarkable ways. You showed enormous adaptability, seemingly transitioning to remote learning in a matter of days,” said Callahan, who is leaving the Cronkite School this summer to assume the presidency of the University of the Pacific.
Of the more than 400 graduates, 354 received bachelor’s degrees, with 129 earning a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication and 72 earning a Bachelor of Arts in Sports Journalism. Thirty-seven students earned a Bachelor of Science in Digital Audiences degree, and 116 received a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication and Media Studies.
The Cronkite School also graduated 53 master’s degree students. Of those, 11 earned a Master of Journalism and Mass Communication, two received a Master of Arts in Sports Journalism, five a Master of Science in Business Journalism and 35 a Master of Science in Digital Audience Strategy.
Student speaker Kara Harris reminded her classmates during the online ceremony about the importance of adaptability as they move into their careers.
“Just our very participating in this virtual ceremony really demonstrates the exact concept that I had to learn in every newsroom I’ve had the privilege of working in,” she said. “Be ready to adjust to changes -- whether that’s covering breaking news or finding ourselves in the midst of a pandemic. We have to continuously show that we are ready for whatever life throws our way.”
Six students were named Outstanding Undergraduate Students, including Harris, and seven students received the ASU Alumni Association’s Moeur Award, which is presented to graduates with the highest academic standing who have completed their degrees.
In addition, 20 students were inducted into Kappa Tau Alpha, a national college honors society that recognizes academic excellence and promotes scholarship in journalism
Here is the complete list of Cronkite student award winners:
ASU Alumni Association Outstanding Graduate
Outstanding Undergraduate Students
Marcus Xavier Chormicle
Outstanding Graduate Student
Outstanding Journalism Dual-Degree Student
Outstanding Undergraduate Online Student
Outstanding Graduate Online Student
Highest Undergraduate Grade-Point Average
Top Innovator Award
Highest Undergraduate Grade-Point Averages
Cronkite Spirit Award
ASU Alumni Association Moeur Award
Kappa Tau Alpha National Honor Society