New freshman Martin Rather creates prize to honor journalist grandfather

As new freshmen across the country prepare to head off to college, they’re likely concerned about roommate assignments, class schedules and adjusting to life at college.

But Martin Rather is not your typical college freshman. While he’s preparing for his first year as a student at Rice University, he’s also busy with the recent launch of the Rather Prize, a $10,000 annual educational grant to a Texas-based student or educator in honor of his grandfather, longtime CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather.

Martin and Dan Rather

Martin Rather and his grandfather, longtime CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather

The prize, which was announced Aug. 10, is intended to recognize the best ideas of teachers and students for improving education in the state of Texas. The contest is open to teachers, students and those who recently attended a Texas educational institution within the last three years, as well as retired educators.

The younger Rather said that he has “an extreme amount of excitement and hope” about the Rather Prize.

“We’re really wanting to give people with good ideas about education an opportunity to express themselves and make an impact,” Martin Rather said.

The award is being offered in partnership with Rice’s Center for Civic Leadership (CCL), Austin-based nonprofit Greenlights and South by Southwest. During the submission process for the contest, representatives from the CCL and volunteers from the Rice community will select up to 10 finalists. An advisory board of people from across Texas will determine the winner. The deadline for submissions will be Jan. 10.

“All of the great partners involved with the Rather Prize will make it possible to do what we hope to do,” Martin Rather said. “I believe that if you surround yourself with great people, you can do anything.”

The finalists will have their ideas highlighted on the Rather Prize’s website. The winner will be named in February and will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to present his or her idea at the South by Southwest festival in Austin. Afterward the CCL, led by Executive Director Caroline Quenemoen, will have a team assess the feasibility of the idea and how it might be implemented.

Rather noted that Rice student-volunteers will be “a key part” of the Rather Prize.

“Whoever wants to be involved will be able to play a role,” he said.

When asked about his motivation for creating the award, Rather noted his mutual desire to give back and honor his grandfather. His ultimate inspiration for the prize traces back to his childhood, when his grandfather told him stories of growing up in Texas and how his education there impacted the man that he became.

“I’ve been taught that ‘to whom much is given, much is expected,'” Rather said. “I look at this as an opportunity to give back to the state that has ultimately given my grandfather and the rest of my family so much.”

Dan Rather was born in Wharton, Texas, a town 60 miles southwest of Houston. In 1932, his family moved to the Bayou City, where he attended Love Elementary School, Alexander Hamilton Middle School and John H. Reagan High School before attending Sam Houston State University in Huntsville (formerly known as Sam Houston State Teachers College).

Martin Rather said that while his grandfather was devoted to reporting news indiscriminately, education has always been one of his grandfather’s passions.

“He’s always been committed to seeing that all students get a fair shake,” he said.

Although Martin Rather grew up in Manhattan, he said he has always felt a strong connection to the Lone Star State. In addition to his grandfather’s roots in the Houston area, his aunt, uncle and cousin reside in Austin. Rather fondly remembers visiting Texas every summer growing up and said his love for the state is part of what drew him to Rice.

“Although I am not from Texas, I feel that I am ‘of Texas,'” he said.

Keeping with his passion for education, Martin Rather is the co-author of “The High School Truth,” a nonfiction, life-based¬†guidebook for high school students.¬†He is also the author of “Taking the Course,” a story about growing up and golfing on a high school team in New York City. He recently served as public affairs coordinator for EffectiveNY, a nonpartisan government watchdog group and public policy think tank dedicated to finding and implementing innovative solutions to make New York better. In his free time, he enjoys politics, golfing and basketball.

Rather also shares his grandfather’s passion for journalism.

“I feel that our free press is what really distinguishes the U.S. from the rest of the world,” Rather said. “I’m not just interested in the news itself, but how it is reported.”

At Rice, Rather plans to study either history or public policy and hopes to become involved with student programs at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. He said that he is very much looking forward to being a part of the Rice family.

“Rice fosters such a great community,” he said. “Since I set foot on campus, people just seem so friendly and supportive.”

For more information on the Rather Prize, visit www.ratherprize.org/ and follow @RatherPrize on Twitter.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.