For Dan Rather, there’s nothing like coming home.
“I always feel at home when I’m here,” he said Tuesday afternoon inside a conference room at Heights High School. “There’s never a sense of strangeness for me at all, and I always feel comfortable,”
Rather, a well-known American journalist and former TV news anchor for CBS, was back at his old stomping grounds at 413 E. 13th St., where he graduated from what was then called Reagan High School in 1950. He was there to film a promotional video in conjunction with Raise Your Hand Texas to promote the importance and impact of public education as well as spread the word about Heights students and staff potentially entering the competition for the Rather Prize.
“I feel honored to come back, especially with the kind of work we’re centering around the school today,” he said. “There’s always some heavy nostalgia and echoes and memories in every nook and cranny of this school.”
The Rather Prize is an annual competition awarding $10,000 to a student, teacher or administrator who formulates the best idea to improve public education in Texas. Rather said the idea first gained traction three years ago at the suggestion of his now 21-year-old grandson, Martin Rather.
“Me and my wife were trying to think of a way to give back – Martin came back and said he’d like to do something that would help public education,” Rather said. “Since we were both products of public school, we quickly came around to the idea of giving out a prize for the best ideas that help Texas education and its students.”
Now in its fourth year, Martin Rather said the contest receives thousands of entries each year – and even those that don’t win create lasting impressions.
“It’s really about ideas that can make an impact. No matter where or who it comes from, it’s about people who are on the ground and in the schools every day,” he said. “What do they see, and what are the venues for those ideas to be implemented? Students can tell a teacher, but as it gets passed up the chain, ideas can eventually die out. What we want to do is bring great attention to those ideas.”
Essentially, the award looks to reverse the trend of decision making in its own small way.
“So many decisions about schools and education come from the top down – we’re looking for ideas that start from the bottom up,” Dan Rather said. “We’ve had some terrific ideas, but we’re always looking for new ones.”
Rather also took time to expand on what he’s done to remain in touch with current events in an evolving day and age. Part of the process for promoting the annual prize has been Rather’s foray into the social media world. The now 88-year-old journalist has developed quite a following on social media, with more than 800,000 followers on Twitter and more than 2.5 million followers on Facebook.
He also has his own website, newsandguts.com, where he continues to provide historical and personal perspective on current events. News is in his blood, even though he’s been off the air for more than a decade.
“These days, if you want to be relevant, it’s not an option – you simply have to be on social media,” he said. “I was a bit slow to come around to it, but once I realized the impact, I came around.… I try to be reflective and put things in perspective. We don’t do it perfectly, but I enjoy it.”