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5 Life Lessons from Dan Rather

Not everyday do I sit in the same room as Dan Rather.

I watched him from two tables over. With my iPhone, I zoomed in on his face as he ate the same brunch I did (which he may have perhaps chosen from the same buffet table I did — cue the screams!), until I felt I had successfully captured enough photos of him for my invaluable archives, uniquely titled “Camera Roll.”

By Jane Claire Hervey

Scrolling through the photos with my thumbs, I realized that I had not fan-girled this hard since … well, ever. When I met 50 Cent, I had not even pulled out my phone.

But this was not 50 Cent. This was Dan Rather.

Rather is best known for succeeding Walter Cronkite at CBS Evening News. Anchoring for 24 years, he delivered some of the most hard-hitting news stories for my generation and my parents’ generation. Many know him for this part of his career, but Rather has also worked at some of the finest papers in the business, from the Associated Press to the Houston Chronicle.

For these reasons, Rather has established himself as an influential figure in the journalism world. Obviously, when I heard he was going to speak at the Moody College of Communication’s College Scholars’ brunch, I almost hyperbolically died in every cliché, excited way ever. I could not wait to hear his story.

When Rather spoke on Sunday, however, he did not give the story I expected. Although he could have glorified all of his accomplishments (a narrative he deserves to celebrate), Rather focused on imparting truths we so often forget in the scramble to success — humility and dependence.

From the 30 to 45 minutes Rather had on the podium, I gleaned a couple of little life lessons:

1. Don’t forget your backbone.

Rather urged the importance of courage. He said that through all of the news-breaking events he has covered, one, archetypal story prevailed: An individual, no matter how small, has the ability to make a difference. He encouraged us to live fearlessly, but with respect to others.

2. Cherish your loved ones.

Throughout his talk, Rather continually credited his wife for much of his success, saying her support carried him through some of his roughest times.

3. Don’t feed a big ego.

Rather told the audience about his transition into Walter Cronkite’s position and how the initial success of his segment gave him a big head. He thanked his wife for snapping him out of it with a trip back to Texas.

4. Learn.

Comparing the scarcity of dedicated educators/professionals to the declining population of horned toads in Texas, Rather stressed the importance of an education, as well as the need to impart your own knowledge to others. Although he did not say this verbatim at any point in his speech, his stories conveyed the gravity of complete presence — observe, absorb and live. Do not be ignorant.

5. Love deeply.

Again, although he never said this at any point throughout his talk, the way he teared up when referring to his wife said enough.

At the end of his talk, the crowd swarmed Rather for a picture. Fortunately, a friend and I caught Rather and his wife Jean on their way out. I am happy to say that when I asked for a “selfie,” they knew exactly what I meant. The Rathers are inspirational AND hip.

As for me, I left that brunch feeling full — full of empathy, dreams, rejuvenated determination and possibly hashbrowns. Thank you, Dan Rather, for a wonderful morning!

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