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Co-director Rick Dunham says GBJ students have 'turned adversity into opportunity' during pandemic

The Global Business Journalism program celebrated its latest graduating class in a celebration on June 24. Twenty students – 10 from China and 10 from around the world – received master's degrees from Tsinghua University and certificates from the International Center for Journalists for completing the requirements of the program.

Among the speakers at the event was Global Business Journalism co-director Rick Dunham, a former White House correspondent, Washington bureau chief and president of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Rick Dunham: "Despite our differences, our cross-cultural experience in GBJ demonstrates that the values we share are much more important than those that would divide us."

Here are his remarks:

On behalf of the GBJ faculty – and our partners at the International Center for Journalists and Bloomberg News – I am deeply grateful for the sacrifices all of you have made to successfully complete the GBJ program. Congratulations to Sunny, Nawreen, Katherin, Farah, Charity, Yvonne, Teks, Jamille, Madeline and David. You represent 10 nations on five continents. You represent the best of human traits: intelligence, adaptability, hard work and compassion. You represent Tsinghua University with distinction.


In 1920, an influenza pandemic had swept the world. The Spanish flu, as it was called, killed tens of millions of people, including my great-great-grandmother, Sima Schwartzman Litvackoff, a recent American immigrant who had fled Russian oppression in what is now Ukraine.

Exactly a century later, another coronavirus pandemic that spread from Wuhan has killed more than 6 million global citizens, including Sima’s great-grandson – and my uncle – Raymond Tumarkin.

And while death has not visited all of our families in the past two years, COVID has dramatically altered all of our lives. All of you expected to attend a world-renowned journalism master’s program on campus at the most prestigious university in China. Unfortunately, the pandemic caused China to shut its borders to almost all foreigners, and the vast majority of our international students and faculty have been forced to adapt to remote learning.

And while you received a high quality graduate education taught by distinguished academics and award-winning journalists, you did not get opportunity to spend time on a vibrant, beautiful campus in Beijing, to experience the diverse culture and vast history of China, and to see the modern Chinese economy close up and in person.

But despite the obstacles, you have turned out to be a remarkable, resilient and academically exceptional group. You are the first class of international GBJ graduates that passed the thesis defense process on the first try, without a single student required to submit major revisions or face deferred approval. For that, I say “bravo”!

This Global Business Journalism graduating class of 2022 has turned adversity into opportunity. You have overcome so much – all of those classes in the middle of the night … and then another one the next morning.

Some of you, like Teks in India and Charity in Zimbabwe, faced personal and family battles with COVID. Teks created a dynamic and moving multimedia report on his challenges that made us all feel like part of his family.

We have all learned lessons from this pandemic that will help us in our future careers and lives. Here are a few of them:

1. Be proud of who you are and where you come from.

I remember the outstanding photo gallery created by Farah taking us all on an enticing tour of her hometown, Amman, Jordan. Farah’s extraordinary master’s thesis on Hollywood’s distorted portrayal of Middle Eastern Muslim women showed why we should be proud of our heritage and expect others to show due respect to our differences.

Global Business Journalism’s greatest strength is its diversity. We bridge cultural differences because we have to, because almost all of us grew up with different cultural norms, different educational and economic systems, different concepts of the role of media.

But despite our differences, our cross-cultural experience in GBJ demonstrates that the values we share are much more important than those that would divide us. As my grandfather, the American philosopher and educator Barrows Dunham, said in a 1981 lecture at Temple University in Philadelphia: “One of an historian’s pleasures is to find quite different persons saying the same thing, and the pleasure increases with difference of language.”

2. The world is a small place.

COVID taught us that a virus in one city can become a pandemic everywhere in the world. Our online learning also taught us how small the world is. Remote classes brought us together in real time from five continents. It allowed us to hear diverse viewpoints from Iran and Israel, India and Pakistan, Africa and South America, the United States and China. GBJ makes us all realize that the global economy is indelibly interconnected, that global communications are instantaneous and that we can all do our small part to make the world a more tolerant place.

3. Be nice to people

The pandemic made me much more conscious of the “anonymous people” who risked their health to keep our local communities working: the grocery store staffs, the delivery drivers, the health-care workers, the public school teachers. If COVID taught me one thing, it is to appreciate the previously unappreciated workers, to say thank you, and to think of their lives and not just your own.

4. Life is short. Enjoy it.

All of you saw stories about “the Great Resignation” – people quitting their jobs during the pandemic because their work produced more stress than satisfaction. Many workers around the world came to reject the dehumanizing 9-9-6 work model.

The pandemic taught us that life is fragile, and that we should maintain a healthy balance in our lives. Some students took gap years. Others changed their fields of study. Others assessed how the pandemic had altered the economics of their chosen career path.

The pandemic reminded all of us that there is life beyond school. Life beyond work. Family and friends matter. Your happiness matters. It is OK to feel anxious or depressed. Share your feelings with others. And try to take care of yourself, always.

5. GBJ is a community. A family.

Global Business Journalism is more than just a collection of students, professors and administrators. The pandemic proved that we are a community that cares about each other. Chengzhang Li and Rose Li went out of their way to communicate with each of you, to solve your problems, and to treat you as human beings and not just lines on an academic spreadsheet. All of us at GBJ knew that you weren’t getting the full GBJ experience on campus, so we worked hard to identify scholarships to pay for your education. We care.

Remember: Your graduation does not end your GBJ experience. Count on us for global networking. Count on our website for professional tip sheets and career advice. Our graduates and former visiting scholars are located on six continents. Take advantage of our network.

In conclusion, I believe that you have made Global Business Journalism an even more valuable program. You have taught us what is most important, and you have taught us how to better communicate with our students.

Despite our distance, I believe you have made personal and professional connections that will benefit you for years to come. The journalism experience, the economic knowledge and the data analysis skills you have gained in the GBJ program will make you better professionals in any field you choose.

As you leave the Global Business Journalism program, I hope you will remember these lessons. Be bold. Be kind. Be open-minded. Be global. Cherish your family and respect everyone. And most of all: Enjoy your lives.

Thank you!

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