Lester Holt’s journey as a journalist started at Sac State

Lester Holt is one of the world’s most respected broadcast journalists – and it all began for him at Sacramento State. He became a better student, he says, and made the decision to become a journalist while at the University. “It set me off into the world.”

He still considers himself a student – “and my finals are every night at 6:30 Eastern time when I get in front of the camera.”

Holt, 58, anchors both NBC Nightly News and Dateline NBC. As a TV journalist, he has covered some of the world’s biggest stories, including the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil leak, the lead-up to the Iraq War, and two hurricanes.

In 2016, he was named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people, and he became the first African American to moderate a general-election presidential debate in nearly a quarter-century. In 2015, he was inducted into the California Hall of Fame, in Sacramento.

A few months earlier, during Sacramento State’s Spring 2015 Commencement ceremonies at Sleep Train Arena, Holt’s alma mater and the California State University Board of Trustees recognized his many achievements by conferring on him an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. His wife, Carol, and his parents, June and Lester Sr., who still live in the Sacramento area, were in the audience.

“I am honored, and I certainly accept this degree with deep gratitude,” said Holt, who noted that his father also attended – and graduated from – Sacramento State. “I am so proud to be and (to) have been associated with this university.”

Holt, a graduate of Cordova High School in Rancho Cordova, was a government major and left Sacramento State during his junior year to take a job at a San Francisco radio station. Within 18 months, he landed a position at the CBS-TV affiliate in New York City and was on his way to becoming one of the nation’s most highly regarded broadcast journalists.

“I began with dreams of being a big-time disc jockey, but it was at Sac State that I was exposed to journalism, and it was there that my interest and my focus really narrowed in on becoming a news person,” Holt said in accepting his honorary degree. “There have been many times … that I wished I had completed my formal studies, but I hold my head high, and I accept that things happen for a reason.”

7-2017-01-16_lester-holt_with-pres-nelsen_01_sm_fb
President Robert S. Nelsen with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt during Holt’s Jan. 17, 2017, visit to the Sacramento State campus. (Sacramento State/Rob Neep)

Holt came “home” to Sac State again in January 2017, stopping by the campus for a quick visit, arriving in a modest rental car he drove himself. A day earlier, in Old Sacramento, he interviewed graduate students Ahlam Abdul-Rahman and Norma Mendoza as a part of a national discussion on immigration in the days leading up to the presidential inauguration. Sacramento was the first stop on his “Across America” series for NBC Nightly News.

The big news in the Holt household these days is the impending arrival of Carol and Lester’s first grandchild. Their son Stefan and his wife, Morgan, are expecting their baby in September.


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