FAMU Announces Commencement Speakers

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Press Release: Florida A&M University

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Emmy-Award winning journalist Byron Pitts and civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton will deliver the keynote speeches during the Florida A&M University (FAMU) Spring 2013 Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 4 at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the Alfred Lawson Jr. Multipurpose Center and Teaching Gymnasium. Pitts will address students slated to receive degrees at the 9 a.m. ceremony. Sharpton will speak at 2 p.m.

Byron Pitts

Known for his thought-provoking news coverage and his commitment to exceptional storytelling, Pitts is a multiple Emmy Award-winning journalist. As chief national correspondent for CBS Evening News With Katie Couric, Pitts was an embedded reporter covering the Iraq War and has been recognized for his work under fire. Pitts was also CBS’s lead correspondent at Ground Zero immediately following the September 11 attacks and won an Emmy for his coverage. A news veteran with more than 20 years of experience, other major stories include the war in Afghanistan, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the military buildup in Kuwait and the refugee crisis in Kosovo. Pitts achieved a life-long goal when he was named a contributing correspondent to CBS’s “60 Minutes” in 2009.

In 2013, Pitts moved from CBS to ABC becoming the network’s chief national correspondent and a substitute anchor.

Pitts’ many achievements are all the more extraordinary when he tells of the many obstacles he faced as a child. Raised by a single mother in a working class neighborhood in Baltimore, Pitts was illiterate until age twelve and spoke with a persistent stutter. Capitalizing on his desire to play football, his mother mandated he receive Bs or above in school in order to play. With that focus, Pitts learned to read and went on to attend Ohio Wesleyan University. With the help of his roommate and a college professor, Pitts found the support and encouragement necessary to pursue a career in broadcast journalism—a field that demands excellence in writing and speaking. By staying focused, setting simple and achievable goals and finding strength in faith, Pitts overcame powerful odds. He graduated in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and speech communication.

Praised by 60 Minutes Correspondent Lesly Stahl as “truly moving,” Pitts tells his incredible story in his memoir “Step Out On Nothing: How Family and Faith Helped Me Conquer Life’s Challenges.” Pitts shares how his faith saw him through his many struggles and how a few key people “stepped out on nothing” to help him change his life.

Couric praised Pitts’ work by saying, “No wonder he is such an inspired storyteller—his own story is inspiring.”

Pitts’ grit and determination shone throughout his illustrious career as well garnering him several prestigious awards including a national Emmy Award for his coverage of the Chicago train wreck of 1999, a National Association of Black Journalists Award and second national Emmy Award for individual reporting of September 11. He is also the recipient of four Associated Press Awards and six regional Emmy Awards. At the podium, he shares his incredible story of perseverance and strength and inspires audiences to reach for their dreams.

Rev. Al Sharpton

Sharpton is the founder and president of the National Action Network (NAN), a not-for-profit civil rights organization headquartered in Harlem, N.Y., with more than 60 chapters nationwide.

As one of the nation’s most renowned civil rights leaders, Sharpton has been praised by President Barack Obama as “the voice of the voiceless and a champion for the downtrodden,” and by former President George W. Bush who said that “Al cares just as much as I care about making sure every child learns to read, write, add and subtract.”

Sharpton is currently the host of a television show on MSNBC that analyzes the top political and social news of the day featuring the country’s leading newsmakers. Sharpton also hosts a nationally syndicated radio show “Keepin’ it Real” that is heard daily all over the country, and two local New York radio shows. National Action Network, under Sharpton’s leadership, has become the most active social justice organization in the country.

The year 2012 was highlighted by NAN activism around key cases and the organization led the nationwide campaigns around voter engagement, national gun violence intervention, health care reform and justice for Trayvon Martin including calling for reform in states that practice Stand Your Ground laws.

In 2010, Rev. Sharpton was featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine and the opening sentence in the story echoed what many have said about him even since he was a child prodigy: “If we didn't have an Al Sharpton, we would have to create one” and CBS network’s top rated show 60 Minutes in a May 2011 profile stated: “Sharpton is the go to black leader today.” In the October 19, 2009, issue of New York magazine, Sharpton was featured as the only African American listed among the “Top 12 Most Powerful People in New York City.” In February 2007, the New York Daily News called Rev. Sharpton “the most prominent civil rights activist in the nation.”

Sharpton began his ministry at the tender age of four, preaching his first sermon at Washington Temple Church of God & Christ in Brooklyn. Just five years later, the Washington Temple church’s legendary Bishop F.D. Washington licensed Al Sharpton, his protégé, to be a Pentecostal minister. Sharpton’s civil rights career began almost as early as his ministry. At 13, Revs. Jesse Jackson and William Jones appointed Sharpton youth director of New York’s SCLC Operation Breadbasket, an organization founded by King in 1971. At the age of 16, Sharpton founded the National Youth Movement, Inc., which organized young people around the country to push for increased voter registration, cultural awareness and job training programs. From 1994 to 1998, Rev. Sharpton served as the director of the Ministers Division for the National Rainbow Push coalition under the Rev. Jackson.

Sharpton was educated in New York public schools and attended Brooklyn College. He has an honorary doctorate of divinity from Bethune-Cookman University, Virginia Union University and an honorary degree from A.P. Bible College.

FAMU’s schools and colleges graduating at the 9 a.m. session are as follows:

• College of Education
• College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities
• College of Science and Technology
• School of Architecture
• School of the Environment
• School of Journalism and Graphic Communication

FAMU’s schools and colleges graduating at the 2 p.m. session are as follows:

• College of Agriculture and Food Sciences
• College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
• College of Law
• School of Business and Industry
• FAMU-FSU College of Engineering
• School of Allied Health Sciences
• School of Nursing

For more information, call (850) 599-3413.

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