“Dream big, but focus small – on the day-to-day things that will get you there.” That was just some of the advice Robin Roberts – of ABC’s Good Morning America (GMA), ESPN and Oscar night red carpet fame – offered in her address on positioning oneself for success at the Emerson College graduation ceremony on Monday in Boston. The broadcaster, who was one of the honorary degree recipients at the school’s 135th commencement festivities, related how her career path did not follow the trajectory she envisioned (she at one point fantasized about playing at Wimbledon not eventually covering it), but she put herself “in a position for good things to happen,” which led to her career successes.
Now well known for GMA, where she regularly interviews world leaders and covers top news stories, and her two battles against cancer, the 54-year-old told those at the Emerson ceremony at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center to not let fear or ego hold them back. She admitted that, when she graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University, where Roberts was the leading scorer on the women’s basketball team, she was excited but fearful because she did not have a job waiting for her. But, Roberts emphasized, “Proximity is power,” telling the students they have to put themselves in a position for good things to happen by melding their abilities with their passion.
Robin Roberts wanted to be a sports journalist, but the only radio station that gave her a shot then was a small outlet on the Gulf Coast. They get her a small morning sports slot, but also required the Black former athlete from Mississippi to DJ a music show too – a country music show. Rather than turn up her nose, Roberts took it on and eventually became a country music fan.
Roberts later took a low-paying radio sports reporting job instead of several more lucrative news reporter jobs. Acknowledging that she did not hesitate to do so, Roberts reiterated to those assembled, “[You have to] dream big but focus on the day-to-day things that will get you to your goal.”
At the Emerson event, Roberts was introduced by Al Jaffe, the ESPN executive (who graduated from Emerson College in 1968) who wound up hiring her at that network in a break that led to her becoming nationally known.
With her success at ESPN, Robin Roberts was again approached with news job offers. She realized she was so used to saying ‘No.” that she did not mean it anymore. She recognized that the news position she was being offered at ABC would be a great opportunity if she overcame her fear of trying something new.
“The fear factor—everyone in here has felt it or will feel it,” Roberts pointed out. She noted that you do not get ahead by playing it safe. If someone does not jump at changes, they are “going to sit on the sidelines for quite some time.”
Three other honorary degree recipients at the Emerson event also took chances and rose as role models in their respective fields: Anne Hawley, who has been the director who helped transform the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in recent years; former U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey; and Cheri Blauwet, a physician who has been wheelchair-bound since childhood and specializes in helping people with disabilities while also competing and medaling in Paralympics and the Boston Marathon.
All four women provided inspiration to 900 new Emerson graduates and their families. The other three clearly personified Robin Roberts’ offered advice at the Emerson College graduation to not sit by waiting for good things to happen, but positioning oneself to make success happen.
By Dyanne Weiss
May 18, 2015 Emerson College commencement
ABC News: Robin Roberts Biography