Journalist Richard Engel tells Stanford grads to experience the world

Thanks mom and dad
A student says thanks for mom and dad during Stanford’s Commencement.

Every college graduate has the opportunity to shape history by following their sense of adventure, journalist Richard Engel told Stanford’s Class of 2015.

Engel, the chief foreign correspondent for NBC News, spoke at Stanford’s 124th Commencement on Sunday, June 14, at Stanford Stadium.

He said that urbanization, climate and communication technology are issues of the utmost importance for this generation and the next. “They are already coming together to make a very explosive cocktail,” he said.

Engel graduated from Stanford in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in international relations. He began his career as a foreign correspondent in Egypt, and started work with NBC in 2008.

When he first went to Egypt, “I had no job lined up, no contacts, I spoke no Arabic and I had about $2,000 in my pocket,” he said. “I loved that I was trying to figure it out on my own.”

Since then, Engel has covered wars for broadcast TV, and most recently, reported on ISIS, the Syrian civil war and the earthquake in Nepal.

He advised the newly minted graduates to dream big and bold.

“Put yourself in situations where you don’t know what’s going on around you and let your brain sort it out. That’s the fun part: the constant learning, the new sensations, the new place and the new risks,” he said.

College classes are over, he said, and now is finally the time to explore an ever-changing world. “Seek out all that is beautiful and inspiring and romantic.”

Richard Engel
Richard Engel

Of course, be careful, he told them. “Don’t be naïve, but if you don’t take risks and go outside your comfort zone, you won’t continue to expand your minds.”

Engel himself has been kidnapped, shot at, deported and arrested. His biggest gamble, he said, was to take an Iraqi visa to be a “human shield” just as the Iraq war began in 2002. He had no intention of being a human shield, but it was the only way he could get into Iraq.

“I took $20,000 in cash, strapped it to my ankle, went to Baghdad and began my short career as a human shield. It was very short. I immediately went into hiding and didn’t show up for my human-shield responsibilities. I waited for the war to begin, moving from hotel room to hotel room,” he said.

Read more about Stanford’s Commencement, see the slideshows and watch the videos.