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"60 Minutes" correspondent Pitts tells local students: dream big

By Michael Mroziak

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wbfo/local-wbfo-988759.mp3

Buffalo, NY – Byron Pitts is best known to most Americans as one of the contributing journalists for the CBS television show "60 Minutes." He's won awards and earns a decent salary and traveled the world. But when he addressed the students at Riverside High School, he told a personal tale that left many students admittedly surprised.

Pitts, a native of East Baltimore, was raised by a single mother, didn't learn to read until the age of 12 and stuttered until he was 20. He nearly failed right out of college. As a middle school student, doctors deemed him "mentally retarded" and recommended he be institutionalized.

His mother refused. She, along with a college professor and college classmate, pushed Pitts to work harder and he overcame his obstacles to graduate and begin his career as a journalist.

"I say to young people all the time that they should have a dream, and that dream for your life should be so outrageous that people laugh when they hear," said Pitts, who added that some of his own college classmates didn't like his chances, given his poor academic record.

Pitts told the student audience he is an optimist by choice and encourages youths, no matter what their circumstances, to also embrace a more positive outlook.

"And I make a couple of assumptions when I walk into a space like this. Like when I walk into this room, I automatically assume that everyone in this room academically is smarter than me," said Pitts. "I give that everyone is smarter than me. But where I draw a line in the sand is that I doubt that anyone in that room can outwork me, that I'm a really hard worker. That's what I can control."

Pitts, brought to Buffalo as a guest of Medaille College, hosted a private book signing after his talk with students, who say they were surprised and perhaps even shocked by Pitts' own personal background.

One of the students even admitted to WBFO that his tale has helped her put her own dreams back on track.

"I was actually thinking of giving up on my dreams, too, but when I heard his words it encouraged me not too," said Riverside senior Brittany Cofferen, who aspires to attend nursing school and later law school.

"The way he struggled and his greatest dream is 60 Minutes," added 10th grader Jordan Parks. "Something bad happened to him in the past but something good happens to him in the future, it's unexplainable."

Pitts explained to students that "strength comes from struggle." A self-revealed Baptist, Pitts also referred to his Christian faith as part of how he has overcome adversity to advance in his news career.