Annenberg 50th Anniversary

September 20, 2022

President Folt was introduced by Willow Bay, dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Thank you, Dean Bay.

It’s wonderful to be here in this inspiring venue, and it’s great to be together as we celebrate this half-century milestone – the 50th anniversary of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

This is such a meaningful time – arguably a time when ethical communication and journalism are needed more than ever. And we have the people with the purpose doing it.

Also, today is national voter registration day. What’s more important than voting – and the journalism and communication that helps democracy flourish?

After 50 years, USC’s Anneberg School has a tangible history of demonstrating the success and broad impact of our faculty, students, and alumni here and beyond – an outstanding track record. The school’s 22,000 alumni are working on issues of global importance like climate change and sustainability; diversity, equity, and inclusion issues; and international diplomacy.

Our faculty, staff, students, and alumni are guardians of facts and pursue the truth at difficult times — like now, when fake news and conspiracy theories cloud our news and information environment.

And today, we also are celebrating the innovation and innovators and the heart of this legendary school, and our belief that the best is yet to come.

Consider, for a moment, the revolutionary, innovative founding of USC Annenberg.

Think about it: 1971 was a full year before Title IX. NPR had just aired its first broadcast in April that year. The first-ever network email had just been sent – and it was more than decade before the “official” advent of something called the Internet.

Government accountability – not to mention cherished first amendment protections – were under attack, as Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, and a presidential resignation lay ahead. Quite frankly, these protections almost perished, were it not for The New York Times and The Washington Post bravely publishing their series on the Pentagon Papers.

I digress for a moment to share a lesser-known link between the Pentagon Papers and USC. The Pentagon Papers were released to The New York Times by Daniel Ellsberg, who worked at RAND in Santa Monica. In retaliation, the Department of Defense cut the RAND computer science budget. So, Ellsberg came to USC, and following a single dinner with the provost, USC started a new entity – the Information Sciences Institute, which is also celebrating its 50th anniversary and also, like Annenberg, is a world leader.

But let’s return to the ’70s – heady and very uncertain times.

Walter Annenberg, who was Ambassador to the United Kingdom, had a singular vision to create a great center for all communicators – a forum where scholars could be educated to “respect the dignity of others” and “be of service to all people.” (Talk about an “evergreen” story, journalists!)

Who else but a brilliant entrepreneur – who focused not just where things are now but where they could be – would envision such a place and make it happen?

And who else would think to house under one roof all of the disparate scholars he called “storytellers”?

At the school’s founding, it was called the Annenberg School for Communication. A separate school for communication at a major university was a very radical notion.

Wallis Annenberg, Walter’s daughter and a fearless innovator, took that dream to the next level. She is always 10 steps ahead. It was Wallis who added “journalism” to the school’s name.

Because of her careful stewardship of Annenberg’s thoughtful expansion, we’re now under two beautifully designed roofs – thought-provoking spaces in a state-of-the-art facility filled with buzz.

Over the succeeding decades, USC Annenberg has grown. Students study communications, journalism, public relations, and public diplomacy.

For five decades, faculty, staff, and students have confronted the greatest issues of the day, shaped public discourse, and led the global conversation.

The school’s founding vision – that every human advancement, or reversal, can be understood through communication – is being realized here and now, and will be for next 50 years and more to come.

I have many people to thank. First, the entire Annenberg community, past and present.

To Dean Bay, who is beloved by her students, who, in her words, will use their great imaginations and intellect to keep us informed and connected. These passionate students shout out her name at every gathering. After the pandemic, she was the first to use our outdoor tents to meet with students.

Dean Bay is a nationally known leader who is first and foremost student-centric. She cares deeply about the school and its students, faculty, and staff. As dean, beginning in 2017, she restarted study abroad programs; added a Washington, D.C. program; and is always mindful that great schools need new programs to adapt.

We are honored to have three former deans here tonight, as well: Ernie Wilson, Geoff Cowan, and Peter Clarke. Together, they led USC Annenberg for nearly 40 years, and inspired a community that now has 2,300 students, nearly 200 faculty, more than 22,000 alumni, and hundreds of industry partners like the ones we’ve heard about tonight – Disney, Netflix, and Wasserman.

We’re also joined by Wallis’ three children – Lauren Bon, Charles Annenberg Weingarten, and Gregory Annenberg Weingarten.

Please join me in thanking the Annenberg Foundation and the Annenberg family for their decades of support for USC and beyond.

I’d also like to thank USC Annenberg’s Board of Councilors and chair Mark Greenberg, tonight’s speakers, the faculty and staff who planned and executed our celebration, and all of you here – you are USC Annenberg.

Dean Bay, Wallis, Cinny [Kennard, executive director of the Annenberg Foundation], and I met to talk about where to hold this event. For Wallis there was only one space – right here on campus and right here in Wallis Annenberg Hall. And because she is Wallis, she was right – and here we are!

The school’s founding vision remains our guiding light, and we see it in tonight’s speakers including Professor Patti Riley, GRoW @ Annenberg scholar Kyle Penix, and alum and ABC News reporter Rachel Scott, who was also Annenberg’s Commencement speaker this past spring.

As we think about the next 50 years, our Annenberg community must continue to stand up to misinformation and disinformation, and fight for truth.

We can’t lose sight of discovery, either. Our school was built for that. Both buildings – the Annenberg School for Communication and Wallis Annenberg Hall – have brought cutting-edge technology to our campus and reimagined learning spaces for our students. Like where we are now, the Forum, which drew its inspiration from London’s Globe Theater and the ancient Greek assembly.

And in 2028, USC will play a major role in the Olympics and will host the Media Village and Main Press Center.

Wallis – it’s just as you envisioned. This is USC’s “town square,” prominently featured on the international stage.

Now, it’s my great pleasure to introduce the fabulous Wallis Annenberg.

She is beloved by so many here at USC and across our great city. When Wallis wants to get something done – even having lunches with Willow, Cinny, and me during the pandemic – nothing stops her.

She grew up alongside the evolving publishing and journalism industries. Her father, Walter, was the editor and publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer and president of its parent company, Triangle Publications.

Newspapers are a passion for Wallis. She reads five a day – hard copy!

In 1989, Walter established the Annenberg Foundation with a mission to better our community worldwide. In 2009, Wallis became its president and chair of the board.

She’s been at the forefront of our city’s philanthropic and artistic endeavors for decades, even exceeding her father’s legendary philanthropy. As a parent, I cannot imagine anything more meaningful.

She supports thousands of nonprofits in Los Angeles and around the world.

We also feel directly her impact her at USC – endowing faculty chairs, providing the lead gift for this space, and most important, sharing her wise counsel.

Wallis serves on our school’s Board of Councilors and is one of USC’s longest-serving trustees, and she’s been with USC Annenberg since the beginning.

In 2017, she was awarded USC’s highest honor – the University Medallion. Only four others have received it, her father in 1994, and David and Dana Dornsife in 2011.

Wallis’ truest legacy is her compassion, philanthropy, dedication to community,and her advocacy.

Please join me now with a grand Trojan welcome to Wallis Annenberg.

Following Wallis Annenberg’s remarks, President Folt and Dean Bay presented her with paintings depicting both of the Annenberg School’s buildings.

Wallis, we have a special gift for you – watercolor paintings of each building’s façade.

They were painted by a USC Annenberg staff member, Suzanne Boretz, who is a graphic designer for the communications and marketing team.

As she puts it, she’s a “big fan of all [the] visual ways we can go about improving the world.”

These two buildings are the heart and soul of USC Annenberg, and we hope these watercolors will remind you of the myriad ways you’ve improved our world.

Thank you for all that you do for the Annenberg School, USC, our city, and the world.