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Guy Raz ’96 reflects on career, Brandeis and NPR

By Jacob Edelman

Section: Features

March 18, 2016

Guy Raz—does that name sound familiar? If one listens to NPR, he can be recognized as the host and editorial director of TED Radio Hour. The TED Radio Hour is a program based on the ubiquitous TED conferences, summits that host and then digitally distribute often captivating presentations focused on “Ideas worth spreading.” At NPR, Raz has also served as the weekend host of the program All Things Considered and as both a foreign correspondent and bureau chief in more than 40 countries, some of which were active areas of war and violence.

 

Raz is a Brandeis alum from the class of 1996. In an email interview with The Brandeis Hoot, Raz discussed his time at Brandeis, his work as a journalist and offered some advice for current students.

 

Raz grew up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, and made the decision to come to Brandeis largely because of its distance from home. “At the time, I wanted to get as far away from my parents as possible,” said Raz. “I love them, don’t get me wrong. I just wanted freedom!”

 

He remembered the academic rigor and access to his professors he had as an undergrad. Specifically, Raz recalled spending “hours and hours deep in the basement of the library, sometimes falling asleep in the deep, cushioned sofa chairs.” He also noted that in his first year he lived in East Quad, and during his sophomore year he resided in Rosenthal Quad. Following that, Raz studied abroad and then lived off-campus.

 

Raz worked as a reporter and op-ed editor at The Justice and appreciated how the experience afforded him to hone his writing skills. Additionally, Raz edited a now-defunct opinions magazine called The Watch. He recalled that experiences like this at Brandeis gave him “confidence to realize that there is a big world out there.” He continued by saying, “these experiences are directly connected to what I do now as a journalist.”

 

Passionate about storytelling, Raz saw the potential for good journalism to make the world a better place. As a reporter, he saw his most fulfilling assignment as covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I was able to navigate the challenging pitfalls by approaching each side with deep respect and empathy,” he remembered.

 

As for his most dangerous assignment, Raz recalled his assignments in Iraq, having spent a lot of time there in 2003, 2004 and 2007; however, Afghanistan is not far behind. He recounted one particular event, “Once me and another reporter took a 13 hour journey over dirt roads to a village on the Pakistan border that was once home to Osama bin Laden. In the middle of the night, we were awakened by the owner of a guesthouse where we were staying. ‘You must all leave now. I have received a telephone call that gunmen are on their way to kidnap you.’ Needless to say, we got out of dodge pretty fast.”

 

Covering the Pentagon during the Bush administration was extremely challenging, according to Raz, as the Iraq conflict generated friction between the government and the press corps. “Often the administration punished reporters who didn’t toe the line. My reporting was based on what I experienced in Iraq, so I often clashed with press officers and political appointees who did what they could to make my job more difficult,” he remembered.

 

Raz started at NPR as an intern for All Things Considered. Since then, he has worked in various parts of the organization. Working for TED Radio Hour, Raz finds great pleasure in what the program focuses on. “The program is about what it means to be human,” he explained. “Religion, race, geographic location, wealth, status and nationality do not tell us why we humans act in certain ways. We act in certain ways because we share a common story. And that’s the story I want all humans to understand and celebrate.”

 

As an interviewer, Raz has gotten to interview thousands of individuals, recalling one of his favorite interviewees as being former President Jimmy Carter, who told Raz that he and his wife Rosalynn were regular listener of his program.

 

Raz also recalled interviewing Marshall Mathers, better known as Eminem, who “wasn’t only a kind and sensitive fellow but interesting, modest and unbelievably engaged.” He asked what it was like being compared to poets, to which he recalled Eminem mentioning that he “wasn’t really well educated and didn’t see what he did as profound or important,” which Raz thought said a lot about his character and integrity.

 

Out of many distinctly memorable experiences while at Brandeis, one sticks out more than others. “One of the great things about being young and in college is how serendipity can often play a powerful role in how things happen,” Raz said. In October of 1992, a student group was going to leave to see the famous Allen Ginsberg do a reading and Raz was invited to come along. The day happened to coincide with the anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s death. Following the reading, Raz’s group went with Ginsberg on a walk to Kerouac’s grave.

 

“Use this time to learn things that may not seem obviously interesting but could have a significant impact on the way you see the world,” Raz advises to undergraduates, continuing, “Study art, read novels, become familiar with the basic philosophical canon. Once you are out in the world, it will be much harder to engage with such a rich variety of ideas.”
Of all of the engagements following his years at Brandeis, one is most important to him. He explained, “I’m married to an incredible woman. We have two children, seven and five. We all live in Washington, D.C. and out of everything I have done in my life, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—as interesting as being a father.”

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