Gail Raiman ’73 had plans: complete her philosophy degree at K, pursue a doctorate after graduation and embark on a career in higher education.
Like many students, Raiman began her first year of college traveling down a familiar path carefully cultivated by those who came before, and that path for her was pre-med. Her father was a surgeon, and medicine was an obvious choice for a young woman with a passion for learning. Yet something happened when Raiman took an introduction to philosophy course her freshman year. “I wanted something that was a real intellectual challenge for me, and that was philosophy,” Raiman says. “I remember studying for my intro to philosophy class, trying to figure out what Hegelian dialectical synthesis was, and when I did, it was a real achievement. I just loved it.”
Dr. Lester Start, then-chair of the philosophy department, became Raiman’s mentor. “He was a Renaissance man who was a tremendous inspiration to me and to my studies.” She changed her major and set her sights on graduate school and teaching.
In 1971, Raiman left campus to fulfill her career service quarter in Washington, D.C., in the U. S. Capitol office of then-House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford.
Ford’s Washington office was short-staffed and the industrious college sophomore filled a staff position helping to resolve constituents’ issues. Her strong work ethic and knack for the job did not go unnoticed. As the internship wound down, Ford asked her to change colleges and stay. Desiring to continue her education at K, Raiman politely declined.
She returned to K, where she went on to study abroad in Strasbourg, France, and complete her senior individualized project on The Philosophy of Praxis in the Writings of Karl Marx and John Dewey. She served on the College’s Judicial Counsel and received academic honors for her studies.
After graduation, in need of a summer job to earn money before graduate school, Raiman worked in Ford’s district office. She worked multiple positions and various events, covering for staff on vacation—and Ford again asked her to work for him in Washington…three more times. Raiman was flattered, but insisted she was going to graduate school.
As summer ended, she packed her things and her mother and brother drove her to her new university…yet as she stood looking around campus, Raiman had an epiphany: She wanted to do something that would make a difference in the world, and deep down, she knew teaching philosophy wasn’t going to be it for her. She told her mother about her change of heart and they headed home, knowing that her father would be very upset that she was an unemployed philosophy major with no plan.
Fortunately, politics intervened, and the door that had opened to her as an intern remained ajar. Soon after she returned home, Spiro Agnew resigned as Vice President of the United States, and Richard Nixon nominated Gerald R. Ford to replace him. Within days, Raiman was on a plane headed to Washington, where she would work on Ford’s precedent-setting confirmation hearings.
After the successful completion of the hearings, Ford invited her to be a member of his Vice Presidential staff. She was doing media in the middle of Watergate, working 18 hours a day. After Nixon resigned, she became part of Ford’s White House staff, working in crisis management and media relations—three different positions within a year during a tumultuous time in our nation’s history. “President Ford was such an incredible role model of integrity and character. People might be surprised to learn that he supported me when I demonstrated against the Vietnam War while working for him as an intern. It was such an honor to work for him and for our country. It was nothing I had planned, but it happened and it was life changing.”
Which is why, as Raiman continued her exciting career in various leadership positions in strategic communications, television, and public affairs, she made it her mission to hold doors open for others, in particular, for K students and graduates looking to build their lives and careers. A member of K’s Board of Trustees since 2001, Raiman also served on the Alumni Association Engagement Board (AAEB) for more than a decade. Over the years, she has talked with students on and off campus about their interests and challenges and her fields of work, made welcome calls to student interns, mentored students, and worked to establish the K to the Capital Career Trek, which launched in 2019.
“I have a commitment to helping students understand the sheer number of opportunities that exist in D.C.,” says Raiman. “Everybody is so nervous about what to do when they graduate. They’re worried about what major to choose, what their plan should be. Washington is a place where you can make a difference, and it’s just a matter of working hard, being in the right place at the right time and taking a chance.” When Raiman asked students about their takeaways after the K to the Capital event, “They were amazed at the number of different job opportunities here, and how the people they met had all these different academic majors not necessarily connected to their careers. They were also impressed by the number of alumni who want to help them and who are willing to share their experiences.”
In her years on the AAEB, including two as president (2010-2012), Raiman helped promote a call to action for K alumni to connect with current students. “My charge is really to help people the way that I’ve been helped, and to pass that along,” she says. “We want K to be at the forefront of private higher education in this country. Our alumni support that goal by sharing the depth and breadth of their own life-changing experiences, so the next generation can do the same.”
Recently, Raiman and her husband, Robert Hynes, have endowed the Raiman Scholarship, awarded to students with financial need. “We very much want prospective students who think they might not be able to attend K to be able to do so and take advantage of the hallmarks of a K education. I’m very honored and humbled to be able to establish this scholarship.”
President Jorge Gonzalez views Raiman as a model of engagement. “I am grateful to Gail for her tireless support of K’s mission, not only in the work she does as a trustee, but in the way she champions mentorship and leveraging the collective knowledge and experience of our alumni network to benefit students and graduates.”
Raiman notes, “One of the great joys for me as a trustee is having conversations with students both on and off campus—it’s so informative and inspirational. It is critical that we continue to prepare students to do groundbreaking work, to be comfortable with the ambiguous and to go into uncharted territory. To embrace civic responsibility and find ways to work with people whose views are opposite of yours”—not unlike a young philosophy student in the 70s who protested Nixon and the war, yet found purpose and passion within the institution of government, and who continues to make a difference in the world through civic engagement.
Like Raiman, K students today may set aside their best-laid plans when a new door opens before them; they may come here with no plan at all. One thing they all have in common is that they leave K prepared for almost anything. Raiman says, “Kalamazoo College thrusts you into the world, into situations where you have to sink or swim, and I believe that really strengthens you, so that as doors of opportunity open up, you are undaunted. You pursue life with passion.”