Jeff Smith 10:30 a.m., Feb. 21
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In Honor of my Nephew, a Gentleman and a Scholar
Yesterday I attended the USC Annenberg School of Journalism 2010 Commencement to watch my nephew, Daniel, receive his undergraduate degree. Words cannot describe how proud I am of him.
Daniel has always been a super intelligent kid. When I first met him at the age of nine, I was astonished at the breadth of his vocabulary. He was obviously gifted, but still had a humility and self-deprecating sense of humor about him that was unusual for someone so young.
As the years went by, I watched him grow tall and confident, easily able to discuss complex social and political issues as well as the most banal pop culture reference with ease. By junior high, he was already reading philosophical literature that stumps some of the most robust of brains. I always laugh that “Dan reads Ayn Rand for fun”.
By high school, Dan was writing for his school paper, and would go on to become its editor. Reading the content of his editorials, it was sometimes difficult to reconcile his age with the cerebral depth and insight with which he wrote. He was and still is in love with the written and printed word, a form of media that is, unfortunately, in grave peril.
When Dan chose to attend USC, we were astounded, not because he was accepted, but because he is an east coast kid from Boston, and California is not his style. He still does not have his car out here, but is thinking of having it shipped or maybe driving it back in a cross-country trip (he didn’t buy into the “nobody walks in L.A. mentality). I am sure that Daniel chose USC Annenberg because they offer a challenging program in print journalism, which he chose as his major, along with a second major in political science.
Daniel seriously applied himself to his studies and thrived. Fellow students and school officials alike took notice of this kid, who never, ever, shined the spotlight on himself, who humbly accepted his stellar grades not as a token recognition of his brilliance, but as an achievement that was hopefully going toward his ability to somehow, someday be of service to his fellow human beings. This was just one of many write-ups about Daniel that I have read over the years:
“Daniel, another junior, is double majoring in journalism and political science. He has just completed a stint as news editor for the Daily Trojan and will be interning for Congressman Barney Frank. Previously, he worked in the press office for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Like his fellow awardees, Dan has spent several semesters on the Dean’s List. He is the recipient of a Scion Scholarship from the Boston area and a scholarship for his political science major.”
Yesterday, Daniel was seated in the front row of his graduating class. This group is selected to receive their diplomas first along with their distinguished awards given due to their hard work and contributions to the school and the community. We watched as he graciously accepted his degree for a double major in print journalism and political science, graduating with honors in both. He was decorated with four honors cords. In addition, he was given the Director’s award for Excellence, which is awarded to maybe 130 students out of the entire graduating body of thousands. He was also recognized for the Order of Troy award, which is described as follows:
“Extraordinary service to the campus community is characteristic of graduating seniors who are selected for the Order of Troy. Measurable descriptors include distinguished leadership in at least one facet of university life and positive contributions to the university as active participants in service to peers or as volunteers. These students have maintained excellent grade point averages while devoting extensive time and energy in service to the university.”
When his name was called, our large group exploded with applause, along with many other people in the audience. A young women seated next to my sister-in-law asked her “you know Daniel?” When she responded yes, he was her nephew, the young woman, who had a relative graduating along with him, said “he is going to really go places.” When my sister-in-law asked if she knew him, she said “no, but I have heard about him.” This is not a young man who toots his own horn (that’s what I am for) so that comment made me realize what an impact Daniel has already made on his fellow students.
I asked Daniel if he intended to pursue graduate studies. He said no, not for at least a few years. In my honest opinion, he does not need to. He had interned with Newsweek, and was offered a job with them, and much to all of our delight turned them down (a fortuitous decision considering the recent announcement of Newsweek’s sale) and instead accepted a position as an assistant to a prominent California politician. This position was offered him due entirely to word of mouth, after inquiries were made to the school as to who was the best and brightest student in the journalism school. I know how much writing means to him, so it had to have been a difficult decision to go the political route, but he has a long career ahead of him and I am sure his writing skills will be put to good use.
I see great things in the future for my wonderful nephew, and I wish him much success and happiness in his future. I attribute a substantial portion of his success to his stellar upbringing by his parents, who always encouraged, supported and guided him with a firm and loving hand, but who also relished the individuality of their children and allowed them to develop their special skills and talents without trying to steer them in any direction they thought more appropriate. As far as they are concerned, the only appropriate direction is the one their children thrived in, and both Daniel and his sister have grown into terrific, talented adults who are going to contribute much to this world and to those whose lives are fortunate enough to be touched by them.
And so with that, I say “hats off to you, Daniel.” You have worked hard and earned a special place in this society, one that needs people like you to be a positive force when there is so much conflict and concern. I don’t expect you to fix the world, but I am confident that you will in someway have an effect on it that will change lives for the better. I, for one, am honored to know you.
Daniel and his friend, Grant