Nationally-known journalist Byron Pitts recently told a crowd of students and other West Virginia University community members of the “power of dreams, optimism and hard work.”

Pitts, a contributor to “60 Minutes” and chief national correspondent for “The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric,” was the first of a series of speakers to present as part of the 2010 David C. Hardesty Jr. Festival of Ideas.

“The only way to get to where you want to go is to know where you are going,” Pitts said last week (Feb. 4). “I encourage you to dream big, have plans for yourself because the world needs you and needs you at your best.”

Pitts, who has won multiple Emmys for his coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Chicago train wreck of 1999, did not achieve his success easily.

Raised by a single mother in a working class neighborhood in Baltimore, Pitts was illiterate until the age of 12 and had a persistent stutter. He attributes much of his success to the many people who helped him along the way.

“I am speaking to you as a student at this University – hold on, don’t let go, don’t be discouraged. Sometimes it will just be enough to get up and make it to class on time. I am witness that if you hold on, people will step out on nothing to help you achieve your dreams,” Pitts said.

Pitts, who wrote a book on his life titled “Step Out on Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life’s Challenges,” shared many stories of how his family, friends and even strangers helped to encourage and push him to achieve his goals.

He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and speech communication.

The Festival of Ideas lecture series, which will continue through April, will feature nine events and seven outstanding professionals. The next event occurs Wednesday and Thursday, as Dr. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates will speak in Charleston (Feb. 10) and Morgantown (Feb. 11). Dr. Gates, a West Virginia native, currently serves as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

The Festival of Ideas was first created in the 1960s when former WVU President David C. Hardesty was student body president. It was renamed in honor of Hardesty in 2009.

The series is supported in part by the David C. Hardesty Jr. Festival of Ideas Endowment, which was established in 2007 by the WVU Foundation, a private, nonprofit corporation that generates, receives and administers private gifts from individuals and organizations for the benefit of WVU.
Pitts’ lecture was co-sponsored by the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism’s Gruine Robinson Speaker Series and WVU’s Center for Black Culture and Research.
Visit the 2010 Festival of Ideas Web site at for a complete list of events.



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