Emmy-award winning journalist Byron Pitts inspires AACRAO 2019

April 2, 2019
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AACRAO 2019 kicked off with a glamorous Hollywood-style opening, apropos of the meeting’s L.A. setting. President Tina Falkner, dressed in her Oscar best, warmly greeted the nearly 2,000 members in attendance, acknowledged the major accomplishments of the association over the last year (view the brief AACRAO year-in-review video), and celebrated the contributions of many notable AACRAOans during the awards ceremony. 

DP2_3902Retiring Associate Executive Director Janie Barnett was awarded Honorary Membership, and also had an award renamed in her honor: the “Janie Barnett Distinguished Service Award.” 

See the video of her colleagues’ reflections here
, and learn more about all of the amazing honorees.

Next, multiple-Emmy-award-winning journalist Byron Pitts took the stage and shared deeply touching stories about the power of education. He encouraged the room to consider themselves those who are “living the dream and making dreams happen.”

“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.”_ROB2407

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 during Katrina.


“In the history of the world, good and decent people come together when they must,” Pitts said. “That’s how I see you all. There are no politicians in this room. There are no corporate bigwigs in this room. There are educators: men and women who devoted their professional lives because they believe in power of education to transform a families, communities, nations. That’s your boat.”