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Rather speaks of 'hard times' in campus address

By Leah Allen
On April 19, 2012


Prestigious speaker and journalist Dan Rather visited Texas A&M University -Commerce yesterday evening to deliver a speech covering the topic of "Hard times, then and now" in the Ferguson Auditorium.

From the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the seven-day hunger strike in China, to the assassination of President Kennedy and the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Rather has had a lifetime of experiences in covering major stories, and he told the audience he was honored to be speaking at A&M-Commerce.

As a graduate of Sam Houston State University, Rather has a foundation in Texas. In his own words, Rather is "Texas born and Texas bred, and when I die, I'll be Texas dead."

Rather, born in 1931, calls himself a child of the Great Depression. He described the difficult life of the Depression to the crowd.

"The hard times;" he said, "starting in 1929, deepening through the very early 1930s, a ray of hope in the mid-30s, and then a downward turn where people got frightened that the depression was going to go down even deeper than before."

The most "abiding fear," Rather said, was that people would not be able to ever find a job. For a time, Rather's father was the only man who had any kind of job within the 16 square block area where he lived.

Rather conducted credit to President Franklin D. Roosevelt for helping carry the nation out of the Depression with his optimism.

"This business of Roosevelt recognizing that people need hope," Rather said said, "and that optimism was really important even in the hardest of hard times, in my judgment, was one of the things that got the country going through that period."

Despite the hard times and extreme shortage of jobs, "there was a spirit of 'keep smiling, keep trying, keep fighting' and somewhat a sense of humor," Rather said.

Even though the idea that the country had only options to turn to communism, anarchy, or fascism were brought forth, Rather said the country never bought the idea.

"Those are not the only three choices," he said. "We have the choice to dig ourselves out of this, to make ourselves whole, to come out of these hard times into better times."

The positive attitude and persistence are what Rather said helped the nation get through the tough times.

Rather switched gears over to today's situations.

"We're now in a national period where it looks [like] we may be through the worst of this economic downturn," he said. He also mentioned this was the closest the United States has come to a depression since the 1930s.

 "Let's face it, we have an economy that seems to be improving now but is still fragile here in the second decade of the 21st century," Rather told KETR earlier in the day. "We've gone through a very deep recession. We skated right on the edge of it being another Great Depression. So, as one who lived through the Great Depression and was of memory age for part of the great depression, I have some vivid memories of those lessons to be drawn."

Rather explained in his speech that it would take one important action to move on in the economy.

"If you take nothing more from my talk here tonight, I hope you will take that persistence will prevail here," he said.

In his speech, Rather briefly expressed some memorable events as a journalist, highlighting the Kennedy assassination and the happenings of 9/11. He explained that 9/11 was difficult for him since it happened such a short time ago, and America was attacked on its own soil.

One particular event changed Rather early on as a journalist.

"The experience of covering Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, 1960-1963, changed me as a person and as a pro," Rather said in his KETR. "It's sad to say Texas had institutionalized racism. The whole time I was coming up, I went to segregated schools, everything. In covering Dr. King, it made as large, and perhaps a larger, imprint on me as both a person and a professional than anything I have ever covered."

Rather said it has been a joy to cover such major stories, as it was something he had dreamed about since a very young age.

"I've been mightily blessed and very lucky to cover my fair share, or maybe more than my share, of 'big stories,'" he said. "If you had told me growing up that I was going to get one of those stories in my lifetime - Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, Watergate - if you had told me I'd get one of those stories when I was growing up, I'd have said 'thank you, Lord.'"

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