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Indian Country Today Editor Calls on New Graduates to Uphold Principles of First Amendment

December 14, 2020

Indian Country Today Editor Mark Trahant speaks to Cronkite graduates during the Fall 2020 virtual convocation. Photo by Carmen De Alba Cardenas

By Jamar Younger

Mark Trahant, editor of Indian Country Today, encouraged the Cronkite School’s newest graduates to use their ideas to reshape the journalism profession and to not be deterred by the challenges currently facing journalists across the country.

Trahant, a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock Tribe who has long been a leader in coverage of Native American communities, delivered his remarks Monday evening as the keynote speaker for the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s second virtual convocation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The convocation celebrated the accomplishments of more than 430 graduates, many of whom joined the ceremony in real time on YouTube and Facebook Live with their families and friends.

The ceremony also paid tribute to Shanna Hogan, a former adjunct faculty member who died this summer in an accident at her home. Hogan, who was remembered for being “over the top for everything, including being there for her students,” was honored with the Outstanding Faculty Associate award for her contributions to the Cronkite School.

*** Photo by Carmen De Alba Cardenas
Photo by Tobias Rein
***Photo by Tobias Rein

In addition, Assistant Dean B. William Silcock, who led Cronkite’s Global Initiatives and its Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program, and developed the school’s study abroad programs, was honored during the ceremony. Silcock is retiring at the end of this semester after almost 20 years at the Cronkite School.

Trahant, a veteran journalist who has worked at a number of publications, including The Arizona Republic, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Seattle Times, the Salt Lake Tribune and the Navajo Times, described this moment in history as “both frightening and one that opens up the potential for dramatic innovation.”

Trahant called on the new graduates to be “champions of the First Amendment” and the Five Freedoms associated with the amendment, especially in these divisive political times. The principles of the First Amendment call for people to value their differences and diversity while binding society together, he said.

“Another take is that the Five Freedoms encourage acceptance of differences and set out that idea as the constitutional norm. As our country grows more diverse, this broader reading of the First Amendment at its core is a foundational document that celebrates diversity,” he said.

The graduates’ college experience, especially during the pandemic, has prepared them to apply these principles to journalism while setting the course for their careers.

Trahant reminded the graduates that there are still new jobs being created in media, as well as opportunities to innovate with their own ideas.

“Cronkite graduates are coming from a culture of innovation. Bring that into the media world because it’s a huge advantage. It’s an added skill, even if it doesn’t show up in your portfolio of advertisements or news stories,” he said.

He used an example from Indian Country Today, highlighting how the news organization increased its readership from 8,000 per day to more than 22,000 in a span of about three years while also steadily increasing the number of employees.

“One route is to invent your future. The good news is what you try might not work. So what? When one experiment does not work … try another plan,” he said. “Graduates today are walking into the professional arena with skills and tools that would be the envy of people who have been in the business for a long time.”

Of more than 430 graduates, 294 received bachelor’s degrees, with 144 earning a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication and Media Studies and 61 earning a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication. Fifty students earned a Bachelor of Science in Digital Audiences and 39 received a Bachelor of Arts in Sports Journalism.

The Cronkite School also awarded 140 master’s degrees. Ninety-five of those students received a Master of Science in Digital Audience Strategy, 19 earned a Master of Mass Communication degree, 14 earned a Master of Arts in Investigative Journalism, 10 earned a Master of Arts in Sports Journalism and 2 received a Master of Science in Business Journalism.

“It’s always a proud moment for the faculty to see a class graduate, but this year we’re especially proud. You are graduating during the most challenging time in higher education that any of us can remember,” said Interim Dean Kristin Gilger. “I’m sure your final year in college – not to mention this graduation ceremony – in no way resembles what you imagined it would be. Yet you have arrived at this moment.”

Student speaker Patricia Vicente said her classmates should be proud of their accomplishments, even if the pandemic altered their celebration plans.

“Be proud of all that you have done, despite the people who might have been betting against you, the challenges of a global pandemic, virtual learning and reporting, and having to take some measures that have affected our new way of life,” Vicente said. “You didn’t let that stop you and that is everything to be proud of.”

Awards

Outstanding Graduate Students
Austin Fast
Daja Henry

Outstanding Undergraduate Students
José-Ignacio Castañeda Perez
Dylan McKim
Sierra Poore

Outstanding Graduate Online Student
Kayla Mueller

Outstanding Undergraduate Online Student
Janay Kingsberry

Top Innovators
Misha Jones
Amanda Krigner

Kappa Tau Alpha National Honor Society
Remahl Anthony-Aljumaan
Madison Arnold
Camryn Eaton
Austin Fast
Marina Lopez
Justin Lyons
Anya Magnuson
Megan Marples
Caitlynn McDaniel
Dylan McKim
Julianna Morton
Sierra Poore
Katherine Sypher
Paige Vannarath

Moeur Award
Tiffany Ellington

Highest Undergrad GPAs
Camryn Eaton
Kara Evin

Cronkite Spirit Award
Talyn Gibbs

Faculty Associate of the Year
Shanna Hogan

See more Cronkite convocation photos here.