Cannon Hersey to Deliver Journalism School Commencement Address

Filmmaker and producer experiments with storytelling to tackle big issues

Media entrepreneur, visual artist and filmmaker Cannon Hersey is set to deliver the 2023 Commencement address for the School of Journalism and New Media. Hersey, who speaks at 10:30 a.m. Saturday (May 13), says he looks forward to talking to students about hope and resilience. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Cannon Hersey, a media entrepreneur, visual artist and filmmaker, will deliver the 2023 Commencement address for the University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media. The ceremony is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday (May 13) in The Sandy and John Black Pavilion at Ole Miss.

Over the past six years, Hersey has been a producer, writer and researcher for more than 40 documentary programs for Japanese broadcaster NHK and NHK World with Taku Nishimae and 1Future. He has hosted eight television programs made by NHK about the legacy of his grandfather, celebrated writer and journalist John Hersey.

He said he looks forward to talking about hope and resilience to students beginning their professional lives.

“My graduation ceremony at Vassar College was with James Earl Jones,” he said. “My first thought was how to top his closing line of ‘May the Force be with you.'”

Considered one of the earliest practitioners of the New Journalism literary movement, Hersey’s grandfather was the author of “Hiroshima” (Alfred A. Knopf, 1946), which tells the stories of survivors of the first atomic bomb.

Content made by Hersey and Nishimae surpassed 1 billion impressions worldwide in 2020.

“Cannon and his collaborator Taku approach filmmaking in a very unique way,” said Andrea Hickerson, dean of the School of Journalism and New Media. “Instead of coming in and taking video, they thoughtfully engage communities in civic conversations.

“Even then, they don’t script or guide the discussions. They create spaces for organic public dialogue and artistic expression.”

Last summer, Hersey and Nishimae worked for 10 days in Mississippi with a local crew to help produce a 49-minute documentary, “Mississippi Revealed.” The documentary process included a roundtable conversation with farmers from the Mileston community in Holmes County, Oxford community members, and Ole Miss students and faculty at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics.

“In selecting Cannon as graduation speaker, I liked that his lineage spoke to traditional narrative print journalism, something the school has historically excelled in, but that his own work experiments with storytelling and community in innovative and cutting-edge ways,” Hickerson said.

Despite market shifts, journalism plays an important role in society, Hersey said.

“I believe that the nation and Mississippi are going through tumultuous changes and a free press and skilled communications professionals will play a significant role in building a better country and community,” he said. “It is my hope that graduates will bring a new vision to storytelling, that finds the light in a dark time.”