NBC’s Richard Engel named graduation speaker

Richard Engel
Richard Engel

Richard Engel, the chief foreign correspondent for NBC News who has covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, will be the 2015 Commencement speaker at Stanford.

Stanford’s 124th Commencement Weekend, which is scheduled June 12-14, will also feature a Baccalaureate address by Vernon Jordan, a civil rights leader and former adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Journalist and author Engel has covered major international events for nearly 20 years, including the Arab Spring, the war in Afghanistan and conflict in Somalia. He has been the chief foreign correspondent for NBC News since 2008. As a Middle East correspondent, Engel was the only American television journalist to remain in Baghdad for the entire Iraq War, from the first shelling in 2003 to the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein. He was kidnapped while covering the Syrian civil war in December 2012 and was psychologically tortured by his captors before being freed, in a hail of gunfire between Syrian groups, after five days in captivity.

“Richard Engel has worked tirelessly and courageously to translate the most important international issues of our time for the American public and the world,” said President John Hennessy. “From the beginnings of the war in Iraq to the Syrian civil war, to violence in Paris just this month, Richard has reported on conflict and risked his life to help all of us understand the historic implications. As a Stanford alumnus speaking to our new graduates, he can share firsthand what it means to be a truly global citizen.”

“I am overwhelmed to have been asked to speak this spring and return to the Farm,” Engel said. “I remember my own graduation nearly 20 years ago. When I walked into the stadium in the heat, I wasn’t sure what I would do next or where I would go. I had a plan, but doubts as well. A few weeks later, I decided to take a chance. I moved to the Middle East with a couple of suitcases, learned Arabic, began a career in journalism and never looked back. I look forward to talking to the graduates about what I’ve seen and learned over the years, exploring war zones, watching nations and societies smash into each other with tragic consequences. Hopefully, I’ll be able to inspire some of these amazing young men and women to take a chance and stare fearlessly into the bright light outside the cave. I thank Stanford for this tremendous honor.”

After graduating from Stanford in 1996 with a BA in international relations, Engel moved to the slums of Cairo to pursue work as a correspondent. He learned Arabic and worked as a freelancer for numerous news organizations from many Middle East locations. He worked as a freelance journalist for ABC News during the initial U.S. invasion of Iraq and continued his coverage of the war for NBC. He became Beirut bureau chief and senior Middle East correspondent in 2006. In 2009, Engel was stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan. In 2011, he reported on the Egyptian revolution amidst protests and tear gas. He covered the Libyan civil war, and did a segment on Mogadishu, Somalia, proclaiming it “the world’s most dangerous city.”

Senior class presidents Connor Kelley, Malika Mehrotra, Eric Iwashita and Natalya Thakur said that the choice of Engel will provide the Class of 2015 with “an impassioned and tenacious speaker who will be able to inspire members of the Class of 2015 to engage with the world beyond whatever path our classmates choose after graduation.”

“Richard Engel has devoted his life and career to the pursuit of social justice through journalism, a commitment that demonstrates a high level of risk-taking in order to pursue his passion. We believe that he, as a Stanford alum, will be able to connect with students and share his perspective on the inspirational decisions and sacrifices he has made since leaving the Farm, and what it means to make an impact,” the class presidents said.

Engel is the author of two books, A Fist in the Hornet’s Nest and War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq. Engel has won many awards for his work, including numerous Emmys, the George Foster Peabody Award (2009), the Edward R. Murrow Award (2006 and 2009) and the first Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism (2007). In 2011, Engel was honored with the Daniel Pearl Award for courage and integrity in journalism, in memory of Wall Street Journal reporter and Stanford alumnus Daniel Pearl, BA ’85, who was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002.

Baccalaureate speaker

The Office for Religious Life will welcome Vernon E. Jordan Jr. to campus to give the Baccalaureate ceremony address. Jordan’s visit is timely: He was a leading figure in the civil rights movement and a former director of the United Negro College Fund who fought to abolish racial discrimination in college admission policies. He is a longstanding member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“Vernon Jordan will speak to very relevant issues that have captured the interest of many people on campus, including our class members,” the class presidents said. “We hope that together, Mr. Jordan and Mr. Engel will offer a number of insights about taking risks, finding one’s own path in life and creating a unique place in the world.”

Early in his career, Jordan worked for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was president of the National Urban League from 1971 to 1981. An attorney, Jordan served as a political adviser to his friend President Bill Clinton in the early 1990s. In 2006, Jordan became a member of the Iraq Study Group, advising on U.S. policy in Iraq. He is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the Bilderberg Group of American and European political leaders.

Since 2000, Jordan has been senior managing director of Lazard Freres and Co. LLC, an investment banking firm. He has served on the boards of numerous corporations, including Revlon, Corning, Xerox and Nabisco, and has remained active in politics and social justice issues. A collection of his public speeches, Make It Plain: Standing Up and Speaking Out, was published in 2008. In 2001, Jordan was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP for lifetime achievement.

Stanford’s 124th Commencement and Baccalaureate ceremonies are part of a celebration for graduates, their families and friends, and members of the Stanford community. The Baccalaureate ceremony will be held on the Main Quad on Saturday, June 13. Commencement will be held in the Stanford Stadium on Sunday, June 14.