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Commencement 2020: "Don’t let COVID-19 define your life or memories," says Professor Lee Miller

We are delighted to share the texts of commencement addresses delivered by speakers during the 2020 graduation ceremonies. For a photo gallery commemorating the festivities, click here. To read GBJ co-director Rick Dunham's commencement speech, click here.

Lee Miller is always one of Global Business Journalism's favorite professors.





JUNE 21, 2020

Congratulations to all Tsinghua GBJ Graduates. What you have achieved under such difficult circumstances is remarkable! I’ve been a journalist for about 30 years, and taught at Tsinghua’s GBJ program almost half that time.

I’ve probably written more than 10,000 thousands stories, most of them very forgettable.

I’d have to say that my top contribution as a journalist was coming up with the idea for the world’s first Most-Read stories column. This was back in 2002, when no news organization had ever tapped its Big Data to accurately publish what its audience was reading. Today, this is commonplace. Every website has a most-read, most-shared, most-popular stories function.

So what were the biggest news stories in the first week of February 2002, at least according to readership on the Bloomberg terminal, in a groundbreaking moment in journalism?

The most read story had the headline:

  • 1. Allied Irish, FBI Probe $750 Million Trading Fraud (2/6)

And number two was:

  • 2. Tyco to Repurchase $4.5 Billion of Commercial Paper (2/4)

Reviewing that list made me go back and think, what were the most important news events when I was in your place as journalism student at North Carolina Chapel Hill.

And to be honest, it was hard for me to come up with anything. The only story I could remember was about big election for North Carolina Senate between a racist incumbent, Jessie Helms, and the liberal governor Jim Hunt. Helms won.

I had a hard time remembering anything else in the news from my graduate school days 35 years ago.

But I have plenty of other memories.

I remember going skiing with my J-school classmates Noel, Mike and Louise. I remember having too much whiskey with Julia Huang and Doug Hughes at Four Corners Sports Bar. I remember visiting the Charlotte Observer newspaper at the invitation of Professor Raleigh Mann.

I remember renting a cottage for a weekend at the beach with Vincy, Frances and Jane. And I remember the time Louise Caudle and I couldn’t stop laughing in a class on Precision Journalism taught by Professor Phil Meyers because it was so boring. By the way, Phil Meyers is now 89 years old and considered one of the fathers of data journalism.

My fondest memories of graduate school have little to do with my projects or assignments. My most powerful memories are times with classmates over dinner, singing in pubs and skipping class to go to the beach.

Of course my time in school didn’t overlap with a pandemic.

I didn’t have my final semester while living in fear for my life or the lives of my friends and family. I wasn’t forced to stay inside for months at a time. I didn’t have all my plans canceled. I didn’t graduate at a time the world economy was in deep recession.

But don’t let COVID-19 define your life or memories.

Think about cooking in the dormitory’s kitchen with Heijin Lee; Some of you followed Emma Ho’s travel tips. Perhaps you spent hours talking with Betsy Joles about Texas, gender equality or China’s family planning policies. Perhaps, like me, you can remember some of Li Dongxiao’s skillful photos. And there’s no way you can forget Liu Zeming in every promotional video since he was a freshmen PLA soldier.

Think about Princess Grace rocking at KTV. Remember how hilarious Ulice can be when telling a harrowing tale of kidnapping in Venezuela. Remember how Shutian Liu made Chinese ceramics seem so interesting. And check out Sijia Li’s Twitter to understand how seeing a beautiful white duck can erase all the bad things in the world – if only for a moment.

Whatever your experiences have been in the past two or three years, they are yours to cherish forever.

And during that time you collected memories and new friends, all 29 of you managed to collect enough credits to earn a master’s degree from Tsinghua, one of the world’s great universities. Show, Don’t Tell.

No one can erase your knowledge, personal experiences or relationships. Those will be your ticket to career success and connections of a lifetime.

Cherish your time at Tsinghua – you are always part of our community -- and use your new skills and network to make the world a better place.

It won’t be easy. But then again, you already managed to write and defend a thesis during the worst pandemic in 100 years.

To quote Charles Dickens from “A Tale of Two Cities”: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

My message is that even the most difficult circumstances and worst headlines eventually fade away if you persevere.

This is YOUR TIME. I have no doubt that the best is yet to come.

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