“About 30 percent of U.S. adults are college educated; around the world, it’s 6.7 percent,” Pitts said. “What most families in this country and around the world aspire to do, you all have achieved, and you are helping new generations to achieve that.”
A journalist for 38 years, Pitts has traveled to 61 countries, interviewed the last seven presidents of the U.S., reported from Ground Zero after 9/11, and covered three wars. He has witnessed a lot of death, he said, and made his peace with that. But what he has found truly unsettling is indifference.
“When good and decent people blessed with resources and opportunity are indifferent to the needs of people around them, that can be a deadly weapon,” Pitts said. “Each of you has the opportunity to change the world. Don’t be indifferent to that.”
Pitts was raised by a single mom in Baltimore, was illiterate until the age of 12 and spoke with a stutter through high school. He struggled as a student, barely made it to college, and nearly dropped out during his freshman year but for the intervention of a compassionate professor.
After a particularly cruel berating by a professor whose class he was failing -- again, Pitts went to withdraw from school. Sitting on a bench in the Ohio January cold, he held those withdrawl papers and cried, considering himself a failure and a shame to his family and all who supported him.
“As the first in my family to go to college, it was both a blessing and a burden,” he said. “If you’re the first in your family, it’s not just your hopes and dreams but also coaches, pastors -- not just myself, not just my family, but all who had invested in me.”
About that time a stranger walked by and asked what was wrong. She was a professor and an emigrant, and she encouraged him to come see her in her office.
“Never underestimate the power of a kind word,” he said. “She didn’t simply change my life. She saved my life. She stepped out on nothing for me
Pitts recounted stories of others who were instrumental in his life, and suggested that everyone in the audience had the opportunity to do the same for others -- peers, superiors, and up-and-comers.
“Your profession is so vitally important,” he said. “As a journalist I see the power of education around the world, its power to change everything for families. I can’t think of more important work to be done, and that is the business you all are engaged in.”
He encouraged members to serve in whatever way they can, such as the Little Ships of Dunkirk
and the Cajun Navy