Tyler Hicks Tells It Like It Is

There are many ways to be invited to give a graduation speech.

You can be president of a country.  You can donate a building.

Or you can be a graduate of the school who spent a harrowing week being captured and nearly killed in a far-off, war-torn land.

Tyler Hicks arrived at Boston University’s College of Communication convocation via that last route.

The Staples High School graduate and Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times photographer paused recently from his hectic life.  He donned academic robes and delivered a powerful address, advising 511 newly minted communications grads to head into a dangerous world, and try to make a difference.

Like most good commencement speakers, Tyler has already done just that.

“I doubt I’m the first person to ask you why you studied communications,” the 41-year-old veteran of Kosovo, Congo, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq began.

He noted that newspapers are shutting down, and the number of foreign correspondents is 3/4 less than a decade ago.

At the same time, he said, the young graduates have grown up “with more war than at any time in American history.”  Most are untouched by it — without a draft, our wars are fought by other people — but the need to “witness and communicate” what’s going on overseas has never been greater.

Today, Tyler said, “a new world is being born, politically and technologically.  This is your time to embrace it.”

Tyler described his own career path:  working at a small Midwestern paper; quitting a contract job with the Times to pay his own way to Afghanistan; carving his own way of communicating through photographs.

He told the graduates to “find a place where something is going on, and move there.”  They’ll be hungry and lonely, he noted — but the rewards of persistence, and belief in themselves, will be worth it.

His family and friends don’t always understand the risks he’s taking, Tyler said.  In fact, he’s questioned his own choices.

The risks became clear as he described his recent captivity and near-death in Libya — in his words, “a week-long road trip of violence and intimidation.”

So why continue to do it?  Why “do anything counter to what we’re expected to do?”

He does it because he wants readers to react to his photos, then form their own opinions of the world.  He feels, Tyler said, “a duty to share.”

And now — after understanding in Libya how quickly life can end — he appreciates it in a way he did not before.

Tyler Hicks (Photo/Winslow Martin)

“Your lives will change soon,” Tyler told the BU graduates, who majored in film and television, journalism and mass communications.  Each will have thousands of different, unique experiences.

He urged them to put aside their apprehensions about money or security.  The key to a successful life, he said, is to be so passionate about something that they accept risks as a by-product of what they do.

The tools the graduates use in this new world are up to them, Tyler concluded.  But all of them should “be brave.  And take chances.”

Tyler Hicks certainly has taken chances.  The result is a successful, challenging, productive life.

And countless images that challenge us, make us think, and help change the world.

(For Boston University’s coverage of the event — and a slideshow of Tyler Hicks’ photos — click here.)

19 responses to “Tyler Hicks Tells It Like It Is

  1. It was a great speech; as a career journalist, I appreciated the total lack of false hope and BS.

  2. Tyler, your courage is inspiring. For your your integrity, your focus on the capital “T” Truth, and your dedication, I can humbly say, Thank you.

  3. The Dude Abides

    Liked the speech. As to graduates forgetting about the paycheck, that is easy. Considering that 1/3 of all journalists are out of work and 85% of graduates will be living at home, life may now play in reverse. I am sure they can brave that out.

  4. Unshaven? Way to show respect, Tyler!

  5. James Shoemaker

    I think this country has NOT been at war for only 2 years of its existance. Let’s work on ending that instead of becoming more familiar with it. That should have been the message to the 2011 graduates.

  6. RE: Tyler’s admonition that “a new world is being born, politically and technologically. This is your time to embrace it.” Robert Krulwich, who spoke at UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism commencement last month, would heartily concur, saying:
    I am here to tell you, that you are stepping into a world that is riper, more pregnant with newness, new ideas, new beats, new opportunities than most generations of journalists before you. You are lucky to be you, very lucky, though you may not be feeling it at the moment.
    And then he goes on to tell them why…
    You can read his speech here http://dougbond.cc/Krulwich
    …wonderful anecdotes about Charles Kuralt, himself and others

  7. The Dude Abides

    Krulwich left the law to cover Watergate for the “Rolling Stone.” Seriously cool dude.

  8. I have discovered in life that if someone tells you to forget about the money, they usually have a lot themselves. Go for the bucks. Money doesn’t buy happiness but poverty sure doesn’t either!!!

  9. “….more war than any time in American history.” Clearly Mr. Hicks is not a history buff.

  10. Dropping bombs on five countries at the present. Enough. Mr. Hicks’ generation view of war was sensationalized by 911. War, war, what is it good for??? Absolutely nothing.

    • In WW II we were dropping bombs on far more than 5 countries and some were our allies. Some perspective is needed. But 5 is too many, and bring the troops home.

  11. American Idol???

    Wrong. There are more private contractors in Afganistan and Iraq than solidiers. Some are doing quite well financially, including, perhaps, Tyler Hicks. We should have listened to Eisenhower’s warnings.

    • Do you mean this warning?

      “As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”

      • The Dude Abides

        I was thinking more of the warning of January 17th, ’61 in stating that “America must guard against the unwarranted influence of the military industrial establishment.” Ears was hoodwinked on staying the course in Afganistan. He has more moxie now with Osama notched on this gunbelt. Next month should be interesting to see if he lives up to his promise to bring some troops home.

        • The quote supplied was from the same speech; Ike’s farewell address. Ike warned against many things, including the threat from those godless commies. Ears will bring some troops home. But let’s not forget that there are still 50,000 troops in Iraq and they are being killed still.

          • Yep, never forget. “They” say that the miitary will not actually bring troops home but stop some sending them and “redeploy” certain brigades when their tours end. Hardly Ron Paulish with first estimate at 10,000.

  12. Tyler,
    Why dont the starving in Somalia stop reproducing????
    They HAVE to know they CANT feed the offspring.

    Seems SO simple.

    Dont give me any of your liberal bullshit as an answer.