Raghida Dergham speaking to the community at Hawkins Hall at Plattsburgh State.
Raghida Dergham came to the North Country from Lebanon to study at Plattsburgh State.
Today, she is a renowned journalist and one of the most powerful Arab women in the world.
“Plattsburgh got me thinking independently and was a major part of my education in the United States.”
Dergham, class of 1973, is a senior diplomatic correspondent for the London-based Al Hayat newspaper. She has earned more than 50 exclusive interviews with foreign ministers, U.S. presidents and other world leaders including U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, President George W. Bush, Jordanian King Abdullah, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and U.S. General David Petraeous.
She is also a political analyst for NBC and MSNBC and is a frequent guest on networks like CNN, Fox and Al Jazeera. Dergham has had work published in the New York Times, Washington Post and Newsweek.
She was recently named to Arabian Business’s list of the 100 most powerful Arab women in the world.
She spoked to a packed room on Feb. 16 in Krinovitz Recital Hall, Hawkins Hall.
Dergham left Beirut for Plattsburgh at 16 at the urging of family.
“I thought I was coming to New York, and then I came to Plattsburgh and was stunned by how cold it was.”
She applied to Plattsburgh State and was offered a scholarship. Dergham was published in Lebanon at 15 as a short story writer and poet, but Plattsburgh State didn’t have majors in that area. The university got creative and put together an interdisciplinary major in creative writing and journalism.
She became the school’s first journalism major and later graduate.
“It mattered to them that I stayed and got an education that suited me.”
Her next stop was Boston University.
She was waiting tables in Boston when a man advised her to purchase radio air time, round up advertisers and start a news program. Dergham did, using her show for documentaries, entertainment and interviews.
“I had to learn while I was doing it.”
Two years later she left for New York City to work for United Nations radio, but when she arrived the job wasn’t there.
“As a result I stayed in journalism and did not join the U.N. as a civil servant.”
At 23, Dergham landed her first job as a foreign correspondent in a field dominated by men.
Other journalists questioned whether she wrote her articles and bad mouthed her. But Dergham worked hard and remained aggressive, persistent, hungry and fearless.
“It was difficult for a woman in the beginning,” she said. “I did my homework and worked very hard to be taken seriously.”
She quickly became known as a bold interviewer who was not afraid to ask difficult questions. Just five years out of college she interviewed Ferdinand Marcos, then-president of the Philippines. He halted her 10 minutes into the interview and said the meeting was over, but Dergham said she wasn’t finished and he continued the interview.
“I was a bold interviewer, but I was equipped with knowledge.”
She also picked up enemies over the years, such as when she interviewed an Israeli official. Lebanon didn’t like her coverage and when she arrived in Syria she learned they annulled her passport.
She has also received letter bombs at her offices.
“Many of my dear friends were assassinated in Beirut,” Dergham said. “Two colleagues were assassinated, and I got direct threats, but I kept writing.”
She said the jury is still out on the Obama administration. The landscape of American politics is not encouraging, especially when considering Republicans and how they tear each other apart.
“I think we are a super power and we need to care and learn about the rest of the world.”
She told journalism students at the forum not to pursue careers in the field if they are not curious, persistent and take no for an answer.
“I have been driven more than anything else by my sense of justice,” Dergham said. “If I didn’t have that sense of justice, I wouldn’t have that courage.”