URBANA — A Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist challenges today's college graduates to persist in pursuing their dreams, no matter what obstacles to those dreams they encounter in life.
"Always persist," said Leonard Pitts Jr. "When you are in doubt, persist. When you fall, persist. When life intervenes, persist."
Pitts delivered the keynote address at Parkland College's commencement ceremonies Friday at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
When Pitts took part in his own commencement ceremonies at the University of Southern California, 36 years ago, he said his own personal dream was to write the Great American Novel.
"I don't even remember who gave my commencement address in 1977, much less what they said," he said.
Over the next three decades, Pitts said he submitted novel after novel to publishers, only to find each effort sent back to him.
Along the way, life intervened. He got married, had children, got involved in a business, became a radio producer, was hired as a music critic for the Miami Herald and became a syndicated columnist.
But it wasn't until after he received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2004 that a publisher accepted one of his novels, "Before I Forget," published in 2009.
"It taught me two things," Pitts said. "It has taught me to hate 26-year-old published authors with a deep and abiding passion.
"It also taught me that life intervenes in your plans and dreams. You have to plant your feet and dig in your heels. When circumstances say no, you have to say yes."
Pitts encouraged the Parkland College Class of 2013 to be proud of themselves because they persisted to achieve their academic goals.
"If success was easy, everybody would be successful," Pitts said. "They couldn't; you could. They didn't; you did."
Pitts challenged the graduates to aspire to the highest goals they can imagine.
"Even if you don't make it, you will wind up somewhere fantastic," he said.