Author Archives: Nicole Migliaccio
When he was younger, Byron Pitts was told that he was functionally illiterate and mentally retarded. Once he made it into college, a professor told him he was a waste of time and should drop out.
Today, Pitts is chief national correspondent for CBS Evening News and is an Emmy award-winning journalist.
In a lecture at Fairfield University last Tuesday night, Pitts discussed how this success would have been impossible if people in his life hadn’t “stepped out on nothing” for him. These people, both strangers and his own mother, made a difference in Pitts’s life and brought him to his current position.
When he was told he was mentally retarded, his mother challenged the doctors and told them they were wrong. Though she had no formal education, she stood up for her son and gave him confidence to pursue his education.
In college, a first year professor who, according to Pitts, had absolutely no reason to talk to him, changed his mind. She comforted him and talked him out of dropping out of college. “She saved my life,” Pitts said.
Despite these setbacks, Pitts graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a bachelor’s in journalism and speech communication. After, he went on to work as a reporter for various television stations. He began as a sports anchor for WNCT-TV in North Carolina and then became a military reporter for WAVY-TV in Virginia. Eventually, Pitts joined CBS News from WSB-TV Atlanta and worked in both Miami and Atlanta before moving to New York in 2001.
Since then Pitts has had great success in the reporting field. He won a national Emmy award for his coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks and has covered other major news stories such as Hurricane Katrina, the war in Afghanistan, and the Florida presidential election. In total, Pitts has received four Associated Press Awards and six regional Emmy Awards. He is also the author of Step Out on Nothing, an autobiography tracing his “rags to riches” story.
Pitts said he saw all the “stumbling blocks [in his life] as stepping stones.” Within each struggle he has faced, someone has come into his life and made a difference. According to him, there is great power in words — so much power that one word can lift a spirit.
In college these words were thanks to his roommate and still friend Peter. Everyday Peter gave Pitts a new word to spell, define, and use in a sentence. For four years Pitts and Peter followed this routine, building Pitts’s vocabulary and shaping him into the articulate speaker he is today.
Audience members were able to connect with Pitts and react to his success story. Wanda Szarek ’11 felt that Pitts was a “great intelligent speaker who was brave to touch upon his troubled experiences.”
Daniella Scopino ’13 agreed, saying, “His stories made him seem humble. I didn’t think he would be like that since he’s somewhat of a celebrity in the news world.”
Indeed Pitts joked, “People think I’m all that and a bowl of chips because of my fancy shoes.” Yet inside Pitts is still the young boy who believes in hard work, optimism, and making a difference.
Imagine living for a week with a homeless person. Picture spending a few days with a professional rapper, or following rock bands on a sweaty, cramped tour bus as they perform at Warped Tour.
These are the experiences that Andrew Jenks, star of MTV’s documentary “World of Jenks,” films and shares with his viewers.
Jenks made an appearance at Fairfield University on Feb. 3 and shared his story with an eager crowd that filled the lower level BCC. He opened his discussion with a frequently asked question, one that was certainly on my mind: “You don’t act like Snookie or the Situation, so why are you on TV?”
Quite unlike his MTV co-stars on the “Jersey Shore,” Jenks has a mission other than partying and fist pumping. When filming, Jenks aims to feel the struggles of unique individuals and wants viewers to understand that there are people out there who lead lives that are unimaginable to the average person.
Jenks talked about how he struggled to find a homeless person who was even able to have a conversation with him and how he once found himself trapped in a stairway with a rapper and the pressure to do drugs. From these interviews though, Jenks gained insight into a whole new way of life.
Jenks went on to give the audience a few words of advice: first, never take no for an answer. Second, fake it ‘till you make it.
His first project, in which he lived with his grandfather in a nursing home, would have been impossible if Jenks had not called 25 nursing homes and finally received the go-ahead on the 26th call. According to Jenks, something will happen only if you believe in it.
He also told funny stories of how, at times, he pretended to have more success and prominence than he actually did. Such exploits as paying his unemployed friend to act as an intern and pretending his non-existent “office” was flooded allowed Jenks to remain in the business and achieve success.
Julio Gomez ‘12, director of featured speakers, explains why he and fellow director Sara Robicheau ‘13 chose to have Jenks share his story. “This year’s theme of ‘Global Citizenship’ intertwines with the theme of his show. He dares to step into the lives of people…and in doing so, challenges various stereotypes,” he said.
“We hope that in having Andrew Jenks here, such a citizenship can be acknowledged and promote students here on campus to do the same,” Robicheau said.
Jenks kept the crowd engaged with stories and advice, and even entertained questions at the end of his speech. Jules Mcgrath ’13 “liked how [Jenks] was really down to earth, had a really sarcastic humor that the crowd loved…and left half the time open for questions so it felt like a discussion.”
Molly Barone ’13 also enjoyed Jenks’s appearance. She said, “I enjoyed hearing about Jenks’ adventures because they’re not something that everyone gets to experience. He had a lot of unique experiences that opened his eyes to so many things.”
Robicheau knew that Jenks would deliver such positive feedback. “When we heard about the show “World of Jenks” we knew Andrew would be perfect…The show is all about walking in other people’s shoes and experiencing the lives and struggles that young people today have to face,” she said.