Mr. Sayah began his education at Shipley in Upper School after emigrating with his family from Iran during the Iranian Revolution of 1979. He was known as “Rowdy Ray” and “Rappin’ Ray,” was voted as having the “best smile,” and enjoyed playing basketball and soccer. He also enjoyed his Russian class because it fueled his inquisitive nature and helped instill in him a curiosity about the world and other cultures. After graduating from Shipley, Mr. Sayah matriculated at Pepperdine University and received a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Media Studies. He then attended the University of Missouri, one of the best journalism schools in the country, to pursue a Master’s degree in broadcast journalism.
Since then, Reza Sayah has spent his career reporting on international stories in the places that matter most to him. He has reported on elections all over the Middle East, interviewed Malala Yousafzai, and covered former President Obama’s first visit to Afghanistan. In 2014 he and a business partner opened an art space and café in Cairo, Egypt as a place for artists to collaborate and perform over coffee. Now the owner of a production company and a freelance journalist, Mr. Sayah does most of his work as a correspondent for the Al Jazeera Media Network in Iran. In his previous positions as an anchor for ABC and a correspondent for CNN, Mr. Sayah’s inquisitive spirit took him all over the country and the world. Next, he will be covering the elections in Iran, which begin this weekend.
It is for his contributions to the field of journalism and his demonstration of compassionate participation in the world that today Shipley honors Reza Sayah with our Distinguished Alumni Award.Acceptance Speech:
Good morning Shipley,
Shipley has produced some great minds who have accomplished remarkable things. I know I am not the most distinguished alumnus to win Shipley's Distinguished Alumni Award, but I am confident not too many traveled farther than I have to be here this morning.
Yesterday I was in Iran -that's the Middle East - and I traveled about 7000 miles to be here and I'm traveling 7000 miles back on Sunday morning.
It's not an easy weekend trip but I wanted to be here to personally thank Mr. Steve Piltch, the Alumni Committee, and the Shipley community.
I also wanted to meet as many of you as possible, to let you know how I would love to hear from you - even after today - if you have any questions about journalism, the transition to college, career choices - life choices.
I remember when I was sitting where you are 30 years ago, I had a lot of questions, insecurities, and anxiety about what I wanted to do and what I should do.
I may not have all the answers for you but I would be so happy to share with you some of what I went through when I was your age - what worked and what didn't.
I also wanted to travel all this way to share this day with my mother. She is here this morning. Her name is Pari Sayah. None of what I achieved in my life would've been possible without your undying love and devotion and determination and devotion to me and our family.
My mother was born in Iran but she is a great American story because she came here with very little and made a new life for herself.
Mom, you worked 25 years in Iran. The Iranian Revolution happens in 1979. Then you come here and work another 30 years.
You retired at the 78. And it was you who insisted I come to Shipley. It was you who put me through college. When I was a 19 year old college student, it was you paid for my pile of unpaid parking tickets because I couldn't afford to. And it's you who keeps saying when are you going to get married and have kids?!
I am here this morning to thank you - thank you for taking care of me, thank you for taking care of dad and being by his side until his final breath. Thank you for putting up with me with me for all these years. I love you very much and happy Mother's Day to you and all the other moms who make it all possible for us.
My time at Shipley not only helped me get ready for college, my career and my life - it also gave me the gift of a best friend. Derry Neducsin - also a Shipley alumnus, class of 88. And he's here on his birthday. Derry, I live half way around the world but I am very lucky to call you my best friend and I look forward to spending more time with you, your family, and watching your kids grow. Happy birthday!
Finally I want to touch on my career. I have so much to tell you about journalism and the state of journalism today because I think it's on a very troubling path. But we don't have time this morning.
So I leave you with this: What my experience as a journalist has taught me is that the media control so much of what we believe, what we like, what we fear, what we think about, our values.
And although there are very good journalists working today, the news media's ultimate purpose is not always to inform us, and make us more aware citizens.
Their stated purpose is to inform you but often times their actual purpose is to attract as many viewers as possible. That's their business.
The result is a world where what you see on TV or read in the newspapers doesn't always match with facts or your version of reality.
And that's why it's so important to avoid being passive consumers of news and information.
You have access to some of the best teachers in the country here at Shipley. I trust they are teaching you to question everything. I suggest you do question everything, even question your teachers and certainly question what you see on the news because the scary world they show you, the dangers they try to convince you of don't always don't always give you the entire story.
I also hope you question me!
Thank you for this honor and thank you for letting me share my thoughts this morning. It's great to be back at Shipley.