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A special videoconference with Dan Rather on Spring 2016 Family Day

Each fall semester has Homecoming/Family Weekend, which draws hundreds of graduates, family members, and friends for a weekend of discussions, awards, fellowship, and fun.  This spring for the first time we’re giving our current family members “Family Day,” a taste of what’s to come in October.

After a tasty breakfast courtesy of Capitol Hill’s famous Bayou Bakery, our morning started with a model English class.  The session was highlighted by renditions of the “tennis balls speech” from Shakespeare’s Henry V (a required text at SEGL) and reflections on the best way for leaders to respond to insult and insinuation.  Connections to the current Presidential election abounded!

We then moved a block (under perfect weather!) to the Washington Intern Student Housing ballroom for our main session.  WISH will be our residential landlord until completion of our Capital Campaign.

Our speaker was longtime CBS Evening News anchor and legendary reporter Dan Rather.  Rather, who has covered integration at the University of Alabama, the death of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the September 11th attacks, joined us via videoconference from New York, where he was on assignment.  Two days before, the students had seen the movie Truth, a Hollywood depiction of the 2004 60 Minutes story that ultimately led to his departure from CBS (they also read a critique of the film).

We began with a brief introduction from his grandson, and SEGL graduate, Martin Rather, who offered a few words of advice for the current students, who are just embarking on their social venture project capstone.  Martin’s SEGL experience helped lead to two social ventures, The High School Truth and The Rather Prize.

Over the next 90 minutes, Rather answered challenging questions from students (we also allowed one parent question!) about the 2004 story, journalistic ethics, his personal experience, and leadership.  One student asked about the challenge of filling Walter Cronkite’s shoes (“I realized I couldn’t be Walter Cronkite; I had to be the best Dan Rather I could be,” he noted); another asked about taking the fall for the reporting team in 2004 (“What kind of leader would I be if I blamed those under me for the story?” Rather asked); another asked about the current election (“If you try to look into a crystal ball you end up eating a lot of glass,” Rather opined).   Rather also spoke about journalistic ethics and the importance of media literacy in the internet era.

The session mixed intensity and good humor, and at the end Rather earned hearty applause.  We are already looking forward to next time.

Special thanks are also due the SEGL tech team, which carried the videoconference off with barely a hitch!

Apr 3, 2016

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