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May 13, 2016

Ray Kotcher Delivers Commencement Address to the Boston University College of Communication

Raymond L. Kotcher, Non-Executive Chairman, Ketchum, and Senior Counsel to the 2016 PRSA National Board today delivered the commencement address during the hooding ceremony at the Boston University College of Communication. Beginning in the fall, Kotcher will serve as Professor of the Practice of Public Relations at the Boston University College of Communication. 

Kotcher stressed the importance of ethics and integrity when addressing graduates this afternoon. He stated:
"Character counts. It’s about integrity. When everyone is able to create or react by the tap of a finger, when everyone knows everything, doing our work to the highest moral standards is not just a value – it is a practical necessity.  In this constantly morphing landscape, a strong sense of ethics must be the core value of our work."

Kotcher wrapped up his inspirational remarks by challgenging the graduates. He said, "As you set out, keep building your mastery of communication. Find your purpose. Make your voice heard.  And work at the highest level – do it right."

Below you will find the full text of Kotcher's remarks. 

Commencement Address
Graduate Hooding Ceremony
Boston University College of Communication
May 13, 2016
Raymond L. Kotcher, MS ‘83
Professor of the Practice, Non-Executive Chairman, Ketchum

To the proud families, friends, faculty and, particularly, the students – congratulations. I have been looking forward to joining you today as you celebrate a great achievement.  Today, you receive your graduate degrees.  Dean Fiedler, thank you for the invitation. It is a great honor.  

And to my extraordinary wife and partner of 38 years, Betsy, thank you – for everything.

This is a great moment.

So let’s pause in recognition.

In that very moment, in the time that I just paused, in a single heartbeat that lasts barely a second, 4,800 stars were just born.

More down to earth, 100 lightning bolts just hit.

And in our world – at the crossroads of human communication and technology  – in that single heartbeat, that single second, 193,000 text messages were sent; 3,472 photos were added to Facebook, 4,629 to Instagram; 25 blog posts were created; 30 seconds of video were added to YouTube; there were 5,787 Tweets. All in that single second. In that heartbeat.

420 million heartbeats ago – the equivalent of 10 years – back one decade, I had the honor of addressing our college’s commencing students.

So much has happened in that decade. Twitter made its debut in 2006. One year later, in 2007, a moment in time that Thomas Friedman is calling an inflection point, Amazon released the Kindle, revolutionizing books much as Gutenberg’s printing press did. And in 2007, Apple launched the iPhone which sold one million devices in its first 74 days.  Today, over one billion iPhones have been distributed worldwide and with its mobile operating system, killer apps and “always-on” internet, Apple created a category of devices that has changed human communication and behavior.
A lot can happen in 10 years.

But let’s go back even further, 38 years to be exact, to when I was studying for my graduate degree in public relations here at COM.  There was an early version of the internet, but it was only in limited use by government and universities.  In those days, cable television was just getting off the ground. And here in the States, we received our news in daily doses from three broadcast television networks, print newspapers and radio, and once a week from Time and Newsweek. Fast forward to today, and according to Pew, four in ten of us now get our news from Facebook. And one in ten from Twitter.

We are undergoing a revolution in human communication. In fact, it is a revolution in the human experience – every bit as profound as fire, the wheel or the alphabet.

As you leave the college and join this revolution, the world’s geographic balance of power is undergoing seismic shifts; millions are on the move from the Middle East to Europe, across Eurasia and the African continent and right here in North America; access to resources is an increasing challenge – water for example; access to fundamental human needs and rights, such as healthcare, nutrition, education, and gender equality. And people are seeking – demanding – transparency, integrity and higher purpose from institutions, everywhere.

Somewhere in the world, in a heartbeat, a child has just died from lack of clean water. Starvation has claimed five lives. Diabetes 13 more. This very second, 27 million people are bound by slavery. 2.4 million are victims of human trafficking.
It’s heartbreaking.

In the beats of your life, how are you going to make a positive impact on this world?  Make a difference? What will be the pulse of your legacy?

Will you be like Robin Patricia Berghaus, who received her MA in film in 2006? Robin was sitting where you are when I spoke to the graduating class ten years ago.  Today, Robin’s documentary, Stumped, about the life-changing potential of experimental medicine, is winning awards at film festivals across the United States.

Or will you be like Tyler Hicks? Tyler is a gifted photographer who was graduated in ‘92 and set off on a career in photojournalism that has earned three Pulitzer Prizes – the latest just a few weeks ago for his images capturing desperate migrants washing ashore in Lesbos, Greece.
Or CNN’s Gary Tuchman, class of ’87. He was part of the team that won two 2011 Emmy awards for coverage of the ravaging Haitian earthquake.

Joe Nocerra, class of ’74, who writes for The New York Times.  At The Times, Joe has been a business writer, an op-ed columnist, and today he covers sports, telling the story of injuries and student athletes.

Cleveland O’Neal, class of ’78.  Cleveland is an awarded producer of multi-cultural and family-friendly media for broadcast, cable and major studios.

Or will you be like my colleague Barri Rafferty?  Barri, who received her MS in 1987, is Ketchum’s North America CEO and recognized throughout our industry for inspiring, mentoring and advocating for women in public relations.

Or our own, Tom Fiedler? The dean received his MS from COM in ’71. Respected for his demanding adherence to high ethical standards, Tom’s journey took him to The Miami Herald, where he worked for more than 30 years as an investigative reporter, political columnist, editorial page editor and executive editor. At The Herald, Tom and the teams with whom he worked were honored with the Pulitzer – twice.

And though he is a Syracuse alum, please allow me to acknowledge Todd Coats. Todd is the chief creative officer at a wonderful, integrated Ketchum shop called Capstrat.  Todd makes a difference by helping us see the world through the eye of his video masterpiece, A Single Beat. His narrative inspired my words today and I hope that they inspire you.

These distinguished professionals were all blessed with great natural talent.  But their years at COM were formative.  Here, they mastered a foundation of all human communication, the art and craft of the narrative.  After they left COM and set out on their careers, they defined their purpose and developed their voices. They are making meaning and making a difference.

You are stepping out on the world stage at an exciting time, an amazing time.
But it’s a complicated time.

In this era of open architecture and extreme and instantaneous choice, how are you going to compel an audience to step back? Take notice?

As communicators we need to do everything we always have done but with greater skill, with greater speed, on a greater scale.

Today, we tell our stories in an ongoing, global conversation that moves at the speed of light. But ideas remain at the heart of what we do.  It is our narrative that empowers us.  And now, more than ever, our ideas must be authentic, more clear, more creative, more compelling.  We succeed based on the singularity and veracity of our ideas.
We can move an individual - whole communities - to share a way of seeing the world. We succeed when we connect with people, when we touch another human being. 

But our work also can form factions. The channels we work in can become walled off.  Ideas can do good – or not. Building common belief is an awesome responsibility and we must handle it with care.
But there is something else, something of supreme importance.
Character counts. It’s about integrity.

When everyone is able to create or react by the tap of a finger, when everyone knows everything, doing our work to the highest moral standards is not just a value – it is a practical necessity.  In this constantly morphing landscape, a strong sense of ethics must be the core value of our work.

If I may step back for one more moment to my days as a student here at COM, I would like to remember a remarkable guy, Al Sullivan. Al was a gifted professor. He’s long gone now but his lessons have stayed with me for my entire career - and my life.  Al taught a class called Values and Ethics in Public Relations. No, it was not an oxymoron. It was a tour de force.  We read the great works of philosophy, religion, literature and the sciences.  Al challenged our beliefs – deconstructed them, if you will. And then he gently and skillfully helped us put our belief systems back together again.  From my parents I learned the importance of being a trustworthy person. Al taught us that your work must be trusted, too.  If you are trusted, people will believe you. If you are not, they won’t. You must do it right and do what’s right.

Professor Sullivan would not recognize much of what we do now. But the lessons I learned here at Boston University remain as true as ever.  The formative truths of human communication remain as true as ever.  Character counts. Narratives can be powerful. Ideas can change hearts and minds. Ideas can change the world.
It’s just that now that must happen in a heartbeat.

As you set out, keep building your mastery of communication. Find your purpose. Make your voice heard.  And work at the highest level – do it right.

Again, congratulations and thank you for the great honor of speaking before you today.

Make every heartbeat count.
The best of luck to you. 
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