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Robin Roberts gives unscripted Commencement Address

Roberts

Robin Roberts of ABC's Good Morning America provided the 135th Emerson College Undergraduate Commencement Address at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on Monday, May 18, 2015. (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

Robin Roberts spoke from the heart—opting not to use written remarks—when delivering the 135th Emerson College Undergraduate Commencement Address at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center this morning (May 18).

The co-host of ABC’s Good Morning America told graduating students that a combination of optimism and “putting myself in a position for good things to happen” has led to her career successes.

“Proximity is power,” said Roberts, who spent several years as a sports journalist for ESPN and twice battled cancer. “I’m a very spiritual person. But if you don’t put yourself in position for these good things to happen to you, things are going to be more difficult.”

View video of Robin Roberts' entire Emerson College Commencement Address.

Roberts thanked Emerson Trustee and retired ESPN executive Al Jaffe ’68 for providing her big break, hiring her to the cable sports network in the early 1990s. Jaffe introduced Roberts at today’s undergraduate ceremony.

Roberts, Jaffe

Robin Roberts of Good Morning America with Al Jaffe '68 backstage before the Emerson College Commencement Ceremony. (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

Roberts spoke about her childhood, growing up in Mississippi and always having an interest in sports. She went on to become a lead scorer for the women’s basketball team at Southeastern Louisiana University.

Roberts

Robin Roberts with Chief Academic Officer Michaele Whelan and Journalism faculty member Tim Riley looks on. (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

Roberts said she took a low-paying radio sports reporting job and passed on several more lucrative news reporter jobs early in her career.

“Nobody wanted someone like me for sports,” she said. “I didn’t hesitate to take that part-time [sports] position over a full-time [news] offer. [You have to] dream big but focus on the day-to-day things that will get you to your goal.”

Students commencement 2015

Students celebrating before the 135th Commencement at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

When she became successful working at ESPN, Roberts was again approached with numerous offers to cover news.

“I said no for so long about being in news that I didn’t even mean it anymore. Don’t get in the habit of saying no,” she said.

Roberts said she eventually took a news position with ABC when she realized it would be a great opportunity, admitting she had to overcome the feeling of fear.

students

Students at the Emerson College 135th Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony. (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

“The fear factor—everyone in here has felt it or will feel it,” she said. “But if you wait for it to pass, you’re going to sit on the sidelines for quite some time.”

“When I was sitting where you are, I had no idea” where her career would lead, Roberts said. “I had no idea I’d face cancer not once, but twice, and still be here.

Alex Freeman, Pelton

Emerson College President Lee Pelton presents a diploma to Alex Freeman '15. (Photo by Frank Monkiewicz)

“There will be times you are challenged and tested,” she said. “Understand and try to find the meaning of why you were placed in that situation. The situation is not the tragedy; the tragedy is not finding the time to face the meaning.”

She added: “Get in the habit of being optimistic—it makes it easier.”

Also receiving a Doctor of Humane Letters during the Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony were: Cheri Blauwet, MD, and Paralympic champion; Anne Hawley, Boston arts leader; and Natasha Trethewey, 19th Poet Laureate of the United States.

Emerson professor and Pulitzer Prize–winning author Megan Marshall will deliver the Graduate Address this afternoon.