|Honorees Rose Ciotta, Jonathan Gill, Jeff Ventura and Mary Pasciak, with Chair Joseph Marren|
The following is the text of honoree Mary Pasciak's keynote address to Communication Students at the Honors Convocation on Friday, February 27, 2015. She offered advice from each of the four professional honorees recognized at the ceremony. In addition to Mary Pasciak '97, the Professional Achievement Award for Excellence in Journalism was conferred upon Rose Ciotta, and the Professional Achievement Award for Excellence in Public Relations was conferred upon Jonathan Gill '95, and Jeff Ventura '99.
Thank you, Joe! It’s such an honor to be here today.
Buffalo State has done so much to shape me as a person and as a journalist, both during my time as a student here and then as an adjunct instructor. When Jan Ramsey asked me to teach my first class here many years ago, I focused so much on what I would teach the students. At the time, I had no idea how incredibly much the students were going to teach me. It was such a gift to work here. This department is blessed with so many very smart, talented, creative, energetic and inspirational young people.
Congratulations to all of the students being recognized here today! You have worked hard to get here. I hope that you take some time to breathe and feel good about that. If you choose to, you will shape the future of communications – and with it, the world.
At this point, I am the only thing standing between you and the refreshments in the room. As a working journalist, I share your appreciation of free food, so I’m going to try to keep this pretty brief.
I’m humbled to be here today in the company of Rose, Jeff and Jonathan. In the small world that’s Buffalo, I actually have a connection to each of them. I knew Jonathan many years ago, when we were both students at Kenmore East High School; he was a year ahead of me – much cooler than I was, and a three-sport athlete and captain of the soccer team.
When I attended Buff State, Rose was my instructor for computer-assisted reporting. She taught me one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned in journalism: beyond whatever quotes you get, there is a greater truth to be learned, and very often it lies in the data. Thanks to her, I acquired many of the skills that have helped me get that much closer to the truth in my reporting.
And although I don’t think I’ve ever met Jeff, for a long time, I was within two degrees of separation from him here at Buff State. For many semesters, I taught the reporting class here. Countless students of mine found their way to Jeff, looking for information for their stories. He always made time for them, and he treated them with patience and respect.
Joe and Nan asked the four of us to offer our thoughts about what will help you succeed, once you leave this campus and start your journey in the professional world.
We can distill that advice into five simple lessons.
Lesson #1: Work hard.
Jeff told me that in his class, he stresses the importance of developing skills that can be used in many different jobs. He said: “Although many students taking my course don’t intend to follow a career path in sports PR, I try to show them that the skills they will practice and develop in my course – writing, promotion, crisis management, public speaking, and so on – will be useful skills in a variety of career paths.
“I think it’s important to understand that the academic experience is designed to develop and reinforce skill sets. Then, starting your career and establishing yourself in the field has to do with continuing that strong work ethic, gaining and excelling in hands-on work experiences, presenting yourself and your abilities well, and establishing and maintaining relationships.“
Lesson #2: Be humble.
Grads need to pay their dues.
Jonathan said: “There’s a sense of entitlement that our generation didn’t have. Today’s grads need to respect the learning that can go on in a low-paying, non-profit job. They need to act like professional employees before their skills and abilities can be appreciated and rewarded. They need to understand that a great work ethic still goes a long way, because most business owners are a generation older than they are.”
Jeff added: “Developing a successful career is often a process that takes time and hard work and a willingness to do things that others may not be willing to do.”
Lesson #3: Dive in.
Don’t go on to grad school right away, Jonathan said.
He said: “I feel very strongly that if you enter grad school right away, much of the learning is repetitive and you come out with a degree and no experience – overpricing you as an entry-level employee. One more benefit of not attending grad school right away is the opportunity to dip your toes into career waters to make sure you like it and want to do it long-term.”
Lesson #4: Keep learning.
Rose said: “My best advice is to arm yourself with technical skills. Yes, you need to know how to write, report, interview. But, the most successful person in this new media landscape is the one who has other tools in their tool box.
“The first one is social media. You will be expected to use all of it, especially on breaking stories.
“But you also need to venture into computer skills: Excel and Access for analysis, mapping if you can get it. And, web skills. Journalists who can do data analysis and put up an interactive database on the web site are very rare.
“Those with advanced web skills, even if their journalism experience is slim, are shooting up to the major companies like the NY Times, Washington Post, and so on.
“For insight, students should get themselves to a NICAR conference (that’s the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting). That's where media is at and you need to be able to play in that sandbox.
“So, my bottom line advice for students is to make room in your schedule to take web design and coding; learn data analysis on top of all of your journalism. Those may be the skills that get you not only in the door but give you a valued place at the table.”
Lesson #5: Be fearless.
I’d like to take what Rose said and build on it. Having a place at the table is great – but why stop there? One day, you can be the one sending out the dinner invitations.
I agree completely with everything that Jeff, Jonathan and Rose said. You need to work hard and pay your dues and demonstrate that you know how to apply the excellent skills that you have and will continue to develop.
To that, I would add, you need to prove to the people you work for and the people you work with that you understand the rules, and you’re smart enough and good enough to play by those rules effectively. You need to earn their respect.
But that’s not enough.
Whatever aspect of communications you are thinking about pursuing, I guarantee you that the landscape is in flux. People don’t get or share information the same way they used to. I remember when I was a student here, logging onto those monochrome computers in Butler Library to get on this thing called the Internet. At the time, all I knew about it was that you could find all of Ani DiFranco’s lyrics there. Things are so much different now. My son, Max, is eight years old. He will tell you that you can find the answer to anything in the world on Google. And you can learn how to do anything at all by watching a YouTube video.
This is either a very scary time to work in communications, or a very exciting time. It’s up to you how you want to view it.
Be one of the people shaping the landscape. The existing rules have served us well for a long time, but some of those rules are being broken every day as the field continues to evolve. The old farts you will work for won’t have all the answers. Sometimes, they won’t even be sure what the right questions are.
Find your voice and use it. Break the rules. Innovate.
So there you have it. Work hard. Be humble. Dive in. Keep learning. Be fearless.
Thanks for bearing with me tonight. I wish you all a very exciting and fulfilling career. Go do something awesome!