The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted their studies, but 20 Global Business Journalism students received their master's degrees on June 21 during the program's first in-person commencement celebration in four years.
The 2023 Global Business Journalism program graduates – nine from China and 11 from around the world – were honored at a ceremony in the Tsinghua Future Media Lab, the state-of-the-art facility where they have taken classes since international students were able to return to campus during the 2022-2023 academic year.
"Last year, if someone had told me that Bisma Ahmad would be graduating from the campus of Tsinghua University instead of online, I would never have believed them," said Bisma Ahmad, a 2023 valedictorian from Pakistan. "This still feels like a dream to me. But even if it is a dream, this is a beautiful ending."
Zhou Qing'an, dean of the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication, praised the GBJ students who "have risen above challenges and excelled in their academic pursuits."
"We applaud your determination, resilience and intellectual curiosity that have led you to this significant milestone," he said.
Dean Zhou said that the Tsinghua's journalism school's international students are a major factor in its success. The school, he reported, was recently rated as the top journalism school in Mainland China and the 38th best in the world by the annual QS rankings. The Global Business Journalism program's graduates from about 70 nations on six continents "serve as vital bridges between China and the world," he said.
"Through their journalistic endeavors, they break barriers, foster understanding and provide nuanced insights that transcend stereotypes," the dean noted. "Their role as ambassadors of journalism, diplomacy and cultural exchange is crucial in promoting collaboration, tearing down barriers, and fostering mutual understanding on a global scale."
The commencement ceremonies marked an unofficial end to three years of educational disruptions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. International students, unable to obtain travel visas to China during the country's "Zero-COVID" policy, attended classes remotely from the spring of 2020 until the fall of 2022.
"Your education has been shaped by five letters, "C-O-V-I-D," Professor Lee Miller said at the journalism school commencement.
Earlier this spring, the final GBJ student returned to Beijing, and the 2023 thesis defense was the first held in person in four years. The past three Global Business Journalism graduation celebrations have been held via the virtual meeting platform Zoom.
GBJ officials invited alumni who had been unable to attend their own graduations in person to attend the 2023 ceremony. Farah Mubarak, a 2022 valedictorian from Jordan, told the newest group of graduates that she treasures "the dynamic learning environment" of Global Business Journalism.
"As soon as I returned to China, I prioritized visiting the beautiful Tsinghua campus and meeting the GBJ community," said Mubarak, who is pursuing a Ph.D. at nearby Peking University. "I was welcomed with open arms. It was as if I had always been here and never left."
Mubarak, who received the 2022 award for best thesis, said GBJ prepares its graduates to succeed in "an era of rapid technological advancements and evolving media landscapes."
"As we gather here today, I cannot help but reflect on the transformative power of this program," she said. "The Global Business Journalism program has been a beacon of excellence, equipping aspiring journalists like you with the necessary skills, knowledge, and ethical framework to navigate the complex world of reporting."
While most of the commencement addresses were celebratory, several speakers tackled serious topics ranging from the global threat posed by disinformation and the duty of journalists to work for the betterment of society.
GBJ co-director Rick Dunham warned about a global "infodemic," which he defined as "the toxic mix of deliberate lies, unsubstantiated rumors and conspiracy theories spread across our information ecosystem."
"Partisan and extremist web sites have created societal schisms so profound that we can’t even agree on many basic facts, from the threats posed by climate change to the safety of life-saving vaccines," said Professor Dunham, a former White House correspondent for BusinessWeek and Washington bureau chief of the Houston Chronicle. "Social media platforms fuel this malignant force, unable or unwilling to put an end to gossip and lies. As a result of the confusion created by false news, many global citizens now dismiss truthful news reports as illegitimate."
Professor Dunham, a former president of the National Press Club in Washington, noted that credibility is the "most important asset" of journalists, and that "the toxic atmosphere undermines our ability to convey truth to the masses."
"Truth matters," he declared. "As my grandfather, the American philosopher Barrows Dunham, wrote in his 1953 book, 'Giant in Chains,' if truth and falsity ever become indistinguishable, 'there is no longer any hope of rational guidance over human affairs.'”
Zhao Yuezhi, a Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Residence at the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication, said Global Business Journalism serves an important role in times of informational crisis.
"At moments like this, this kind of program is particularly valuable," said Zhao Yuezhi, Canada Research Chair in Political Economy of Global Communication at the SImon Fraser University School of Communication. "We need to believe there is truth. We need to speak truth to power."
The 2023 graduating class spanned 11 nations in Asia, Europe and the Americas. Amy Magee of the United States won the top portfolio award, while Bisma Ahmad of Pakistan was chosen as the best journalism portfolio. Gillian Tang Qinghui of Singapore also was honored for academic excellence, and Roger Fu of Peru received a prize for distinguished service for helping the GBJ office keep lines of communication open to all students throughout the pandemic. The other international graduates were Maria Vula, the first GBJ graduate from Fiji, Rida Wang and Eason Du of Canada, Katarina Sai of Ukraine, Mateusz Jankowski of Poland, Yeonsu Kim of South Korea, and Johora Nawreen of Bangladesh.
Amy Magee, in her commencement address, encouraged her fellow graduates "to continue to strive for excellence, to pursue our passions, and to make a positive impact on the world around us."
"Our time at Tsinghua University has been transformative," she said. "We come from all around the globe and have created connections that will last a lifetime. We have engaged in lively discussions, faced challenges in our academic and daily lives, and expanded our horizons both culturally and academically. The diversity of experiences and perspectives within our cohort has been instrumental in shaping our growth and broadening our worldview."
Magee and Mubarak both encouraged the new graduates to work for the betterment of society.
"The Global Business Journalism Program has provided you with a solid foundation," the Palestinian alumna told her fellow graduates. "Now, writing the next chapter is up to you."