Journalist says follow dreams, forget about money at annual university lecture

Thursday, March 1, 2012
Byron McCauley

Award-winning journalist and public relations consultant Byron McCauley spoke to students about the power of dreams Wednesday during Southeast Missouri State University's annual Michael Davis Lecture at Rose Theatre.

The annual event held in conjunction with Black History Month gives students the opportunity to mingle with communications professionals who are what Michael Davis hoped to become, said Dr. Tamara Buck.

Buck spoke before McCauley about the lecture's namesake, a journalism student at Southeast who died in 1994 as a result of injuries he received in a fraternity hazing incident.

"It was a life filled with so much promise but extinguished too soon," McCauley said of Davis.

He told students now was the time for them to dream and imagine what they could become.

"It is important to listen respectfully to those who have come before us," he said. "But it is essential to listen to and follow the inner voice in your own soul."

McCauley, who worked at several publications during his 20-year newspaper career, said his mother taught him about the power of dreams. "She was the first person in her family to go to college," he said. "Coming home pregnant at the beginning of her senior year at the historically black, conservative Grambling College was not part of her plan."

While she was pregnant with McCauley, she obtained a conditional waiver to teach elementary school and wore a rubber girdle in an effort to hide her pregnancy.

"It took her six summers, but she achieved her degree in education and set an example," he said.

McCauley's mother stressed reading and writing to him, inspiring him to find a way to earn a living as a writer.

When he was 15 he joined a team of student reporters at his local newspaper in Louisiana reporting news at his school.

While it's hard to hear in this economy, McCauley told students not to base their success on the amount of money they earn.

"If you're doing something you like doing, it will allow the money to find you inevitably," he said.

McCauley said the most important story he'd ever written was a short, 10-inch story about a deadly car crash on hazardous curve near Little Rock, Ark.

"It was not important because of the scope of the story, but because this curve was dangerous and people sped through there all the time without regard for safety," he said.

Following the story, action was taken to rebuild the road to straighten out the dangerous curve, he said.

McCauley said the best journalists seek to write stories that push forward public conversation and drive solutions to community issues.

He did this himself while working as editorial page editor at the Cincinnati Enquirer and writing a series of editorials that helped the Cincinnati police department change the way they handled gun crimes, he said.

McCauley told students building a career is a lot like climbing a mountain.

"While the ultimate goal may be to reach the top of Mount Everest, that will not be the first mission," he said.

He warned students to expect many challenges along the way, no matter what they set out to do.

"Challenges can make it a little bit harder, but they also make it fun," he said.

McCauley's career has taken him from newspapers to teaching, then into corporate speech writing and public relations. He currently serves as director of public relations at Knowledgeworks, an education advocacy group in Cincinnati.

"Right now, I feel like this is the most important work I have done," he said.

mmiller@semissourian.com

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