International Relations / Journalism
B.A., June 2009, Summa cum Laude
Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship
Dan Daley Award for Journalism
Diego Hidalgo Scholarship
“I was presented with a narrow view of the world, but looked far and wide for the big picture.”
Born in Oregon, Azriel Relph grew up in a single-wide trailer in Northern California, the second oldest of five children. His dad was a janitor at his elementary school; his mother stayed home to raise the family, later becoming a teacher, then a social worker for Head Start. Money was scarce; sometimes government assistance was needed. To supplement the family income, Relph starting working on a landscaping crew at the age of 13.
About his early years, Relph says “I was presented with a narrow view of the world, but looked far and wide for the big picture. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are television images of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the first American bombing of Baghdad. These events could not have been more remote to the world of a child living in a trailer in rural California, and that is exactly why they captivated me. The world news was a retreat from what I saw as a boring and dead end town.” His Foreign Service Officer grandfather, who served for 50 years, brought stories of world travels, from rubbing elbows with Kissinger, to Kings. Relph’s trailer was surely the only one to display a real Massai spear. Continual news from afar spurred Relph’s “desire to analyze and write about world events.”
While still in high school he moved out on his own, supporting himself in a string of low-level, low-paying jobs. After graduating he moved as far away as a U-Haul could take him, to Boston, Mass., where he continued to juggle low-wage jobs and explore another interest, musical. “Through modest talent, extreme determination and a do-it-yourself work ethic, I was able to travel, performing in over twenty countries in Europe and Latin America. I quickly realized where my passions lay, that traveling was not enough and that performing was merely a vehicle. What I truly desired was to understand the way countries interacted and to spread that understanding. When terrorism struck America in 2001, it became clear to me how vital those interactions were and how lacking that understanding was. Shortly after this I moved to New York City and began my college education.”
Relph started his education at Borough of Manhattan Community College in 2004 at the age of 25, entering CUNY BA/BS in 2007, saying as soon as he heard about it he knew it was just what he was looking for – an opportunity to study Journalism and International Relations in a self-designed degree working closely with CUNY faculty members.
In 2007 he was a full-time student and a full-time Sales Associate-Business Consultant for Apple Computers, a job he was later able to leave thanks to full tuition funding from CUNY Baccalaureate’s Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship.
His academic plan was ambitious; he took intermediate and advanced courses in Economics, History, Film, Media, and Political Science under the direction of Hunter College Professors Donald Zagoria, Political Science and Bernard Stein, Film and Media. In winter 2007, with additional funding from the Smith Fellowship, Relph studied Spanish in Argentina. He was thrilled by his first by-line in The Hunts Point Express, an article following the funds from a $4 million dollar grant from Hugo Chavez to South Bronx non-profits, a research paper he wrote for his course in Neighborhood News. “This was an intensive, professional-level journalism experience. The trail this article took me on ended with me riding a rowboat across the East River with a band of teenagers, headed to the island where Typhoid Mary died in quarantine.” In spring 2008, in Urban Investigative Reporting, taught by Tom Robbins of The Village Voice, Relph’s paper about the struggle between affordable housing and luxury development in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Greenpoint sections required him to chase down developers and city officials, interview residents, attend community board meetings, and dig deep into city agencies for financial information; this earned him his second A+. At the end of that semester, he started working for an international non-profit organization from Ireland called “Blast Beat,” where he teaches business and entrepreneurship skills to high school students. [www.blastbeat.org]
Relph says “As are most CUNY Baccalaureate students, I am a fan of a challenge.” He challenged himself to complete his B.A. by the age of 30 which he did in June 2009. He has been accepted to three Journalism graduate schools: Columbia, NYU, and CUNY. He chose the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism which he will attend as a Sulzberger Scholar, saying “it would have felt great to go to an Ivy League school but the cutting edge curriculum at CUNY Journalism, combined with my CUNY Baccalaureate degree, will take me much farther.”