February 23, 2010
“A newspaper reporter interviewed my mom for a story about me and asked, ‘Mrs. Pitts, how did you manage as a single parent, a divorcee, to send three kids to college?’ Her answer: ‘It was simple. I said, ‘Go to college, or I will beat you to death.’
That’s an excerpt from Byron Pitts’ commencement speech delivered to his alma mater, Ohio Wesleyan, in 2006. Pitts is a contributor to “60 Minutes” and chief national correspondent on the CBS Evening News. How did a man who could not read at the age of 12 reach the pinnacle of success in his field? He tells that story in his book, Step Out on Nothing, and if I had to summarize the book I would say that Byron Pitts overcame many hardships through the help of a loving God who gave him faith to believe, a mother who would not take no for an answer, and a few mentors who saw more than just a boy who stuttered or a young man who was slow in his studies. He gives them credit in a chapter entitled, “The Hands that Pull You Up,” which opens with a quote by his grandmother, Roberta Mae Walden: “You can’t climb a mountain without some rough spots to hold onto.”
Pitts was ready to drop out of college as a freshman after his English professor said to him, “Your presence at Ohio Wesleyan University is a waste of my time and the government’s money. I think you should leave.” He walked over to the administration building, crushed by his professor’s words, and picked up the papers necessary for withdrawal. He sat on a bench outside, and with tears running down his cheeks, Pitts filled out the papers. It was at that moment that his life was changed. A woman walked by and, seeing his tears, asked if he was OK. He explained the situation and she said, “Come by and see me tomorrow. Do not leave school without talking with me.” Her name was Ulle Lewes, and as Byron Pitts says, “she was my angel.”
I am reminded of people who spoke into my life, who cast a vision for me, who said in as many words, “I believe in you. More than that, I believe God can use you. Don’t quit.” I had a college professor at UNC who taught me in my first speech class how to take a piece of literature and understand it better through performing it. Sometime during the course of that semester, Prof. Hardy pulled me aside and said, “Mark, why aren’t you a Speech Communications major?” I stammered and sputtered until she said, “You should be. You’re good at it.” I have looked back many times to that pivotal point in my life and how God directed me through a professor who cast a vision for success.
I think it is one of our most important missions as parents: to see the good in our children and encourage them in it. We are sometimes so busy trying to correct what is wrong (and there’s plenty of that to go around, in us and in them) that we miss the bigger picture. Let’s not miss those golden moments of opportunity to cast a vision for our children and for others with whom the Lord will give us influence. Our words of blessing can be used by God to change someone’s life.
The Bible says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”