Commencement Address by Rick Dunham for the GBJ Class of 2019
(Co-director of Global Business Journalism Program Tsinghua University, Visiting Professor of School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University)
July 4th, 2019
大家好。Добрый день. خوش. Assalaam-o-Alaikum.
Dean Chen. Dean Hu. Dean Hang. Dean Shi. Sharon Chen. Distinguished faculty. Loving parents and families. And, of course, the reason we are here: Our 2019 graduates. Welcome.
I am honored, on behalf of the International Center for Journalists and the international faculty of the Global Business Journalism Program, to congratulate you on your successful completion of your master’s degree. I am in awe of the talents you possess and your commitment to ethics and excellence. And I look forward to watching you thrive in the years to come.
Since its creation in 2007, the Global Business Journalism program has been a global leader in cross-cultural journalism education. It has produced an impressive group of alumni who have improved the quality of economic journalism in China and global understanding of the Chinese economy. As China deepens its role in our interdependent world, the GBJ program has deepened international knowledge of China through immersive life experiences and high-quality education by eminent Chinese scholars and veteran international reporters.
After graduating, our alumni have done much more than simply earning a living in journalism or other pursuits. They have made the world a better place because of their social consciousness and their contributions to societal progress in places as diverse as Nepal and Zimbabwe, Uganda and the United States, the republic of Georgia and Tanzania.
Tsinghua University’s motto is “self-discipline and social commitment.” The 2019 graduating class has shown tremendous self-discipline (most of the time), and a commitment to improving society that makes all of us proud.
To me Tsinghua’s motto is far more than a slogan. It is a way of life that my family has practiced for generations.
My grandfather, Barrows Dunham, learned this lesson from one of his idols, Albert Einstein. Professor Einstein had been an admirer of my grandfather’s philosophy writings. When my grandfather got into trouble during the “Red Scare” era of America in the 1950s and was summoned by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the famous scientist tried to help him. Dr. Einstein believed in freedom of speech, even unpopular speech as practiced by my Marxist grandfather.
Professor Einstein agreed to meet with Professor Dunham in January 1953 at the great man’s home in Princeton, New Jersey, to try to secure a fellowship that would help my grandfather escape the anti-Communist hysteria spreading across America. Victims of government persecution “could go to him for support and advice,” my grandfather remembered later.
When my grandfather arrived at the Einstein house at 112 Mercer Street on a rainy, cold day, a sculptor was working on a bust of his host on the second floor. Professor Einstein, wearing an old brown sweater and baggy pants, greeted my grandfather with a wave from the top of the stairs. Professor Einstein lauded the “courageous” conduct of my grandfather, who later wrote of “the geniality, the absolute ease and graciousness” of his host. When Dr. Dunham later informed Professor Einstein’s secretary of the upcoming political storm that was almost certain to arrive, she responded that the famous scientist “doesn’t care about that.”
Einstein ultimately was unsuccessful – my grandfather’s employer, Temple University, was unwilling to agree to hire him back at the end of the fellowship. The U.S. Congress voted to recommend criminal charges against my grandfather for refusing to cooperate with their investigation. But my grandfather never forgot the courage of one famous man who was willing to risk censure for performing an act of social commitment.
My other grandfather also was a man of social conscience. But his background was very different. Unlike my father’s father, who was an intellectual with a doctoral degree, my mother’s father was the son of immigrants from Russia. He did not speak English until he started primary school in his native city of Philadelphia. Despite many obstacles, he became an exceptional student and graduated second in his class at Philadelphia’s top high school.
But his economic future in the United States was bleak. The Great Depression of the 1930s had just started, and more than half of young American men were jobless. My grandfather, his new wife and her parents moved back to communist Russia. He completed his college degree in Moscow and became a factory worker. But the Soviet Union was no worker’s paradise. Poverty and terror pervaded daily life. After my grandmother’s favorite uncle was killed in Stalin’s purges in 1937, my grandparents returned to America just before my mother’s birth.
My grandfather Bill never lost his social conscience. He worked as a union organizer in America, trying to improve salaries and working conditions for factory workers. After his retirement, he volunteered for the next 25 years as a tutor, helping illiterate Americans and new immigrants learn English and math skills.
As he told me shortly before he died, he spent the first 45 years of his life trying to change the world and the next 45 years of his life changing the world one person at a time.
I feel the same way about my career. As a journalist, I am proud of my role in educating the public about important issues in their lives, and holding powerful people accountable for their actions. I have had a rare opportunity to discuss global trends with American leaders, whether it is talking to President Bill Clinton about the emergence of China as a world economic power in 1998, reviewing America’s economic challenges with George W. Bush, encouraging the growth of micro-lending to create businesses in poverty-stricken parts of rural America, Africa and Asia with Hillary Clinton, or discussing American energy policy with Vice President Dick Cheney and President Barack Obama. It is humbling to know that your explanatory and analytical journalism is being read not only by average people but also by presidents of the United States.
But like my grandfather Bill, I get more joy from my giving back to society. I am committed to mentoring young journalists to teach them the skills needed to succeed in our rapidly changing journalism world. I enjoy training veteran journalists in the new media technologies that they must master in order to survive. But most of all, I love teaching the smartest journalism students in the world here at Tsinghua University.
You are the leaders of the future, whether you choose to practice in the traditional media industry, new media, emerging communications platforms, the tech world or other fields. For the rest of my life, I will treasure the news of your achievements, and I will proudly point to each of you as my legacy.
Like my grandfather Bill, I hope to make the world better one person at a time.
Tsinghua students are dedicated to social practice, and are working hard during their time here to improve life in remote areas of rural China and in the hutongs of urban Beijing. Liwen Zhang, one of this year’s top graduates, has volunteered to help migrant children at a middle school in Beijing. Naanga Enkhtur, another stellar student, has devoted herself to the stories of urban and rural poor in China and her native Mongolia. It is this kind of social commitment that makes you not only leaders in your fields of study, but also leaders of society.
You have been trained for public service; that is, serving the public through truthful reporting and fact-based analysis. Journalists, wherever they are, work to create a better society by explaining the past and present, shining a bright light on problems in our society, and exploring solutions to societal ills.
My grandfather Barrows Dunham understood this. In a 1964 article in The Nation magazine, he wrote of the importance of social commitment. “History is full of surprises,” he wrote, “and indeed contains little else. Perhaps the greatest surprise is that some surprises are pleasant. Of these,” he continued, “there could be none more gratifying than a mode of social life in which all thoughts are thinkable and all thinkers free from harm.”
Let’s hope for a world of pleasant surprises, a world of social progress, where thinkers like you make the world a better place with your educational training and social practice. All of us in your GBJ family will cherish your future achievements, whatever they may be. Please stay in touch.
谢谢, 大家。Большое спасибо. Thank you.