Dream Big, Focus Small

October, 2005

The Robin Roberts formula for success

by Michele Barney Hutchins

11-217“Do I know my audience or what?” Robin Roberts, co-anchor for ABCNEWS’ Good Morning America, exclaimed, reacting to the rousing cheers coming from the nearly 700 Plymouth State University graduates. As the 2005 commencement speaker she had just announced she didn’t have a written speech or prepared remarks, and couldn’t even remember who her commencement speaker was.

Instead, she put herself in their shoes and talked about how, not so long ago at her own commencement, she didn’t have a job yet, had even been turned down for a couple of jobs, “but felt something good was going to happen.” Roberts said, “I had put myself in a position to be successful, something I learned from participating in sports.” Although she dreamed of being a professional athlete, she knew instinctively that wouldn’t give her the success she hoped for, so instead she set her sights on being a television sportscaster.

“Select something you are passionate about,” she told the graduates. “I was passionate about sports. Proximity is power and you have to position yourself for success. I got my college degree, I got practical experience as a radio sportscaster and made the necessary sacrifices [referring to her stint as a weekend deejay for a country/western station].”

Roberts is well known for her work on ESPN which she joined in 1990 and still contributes to today. She began her broadcasting career in 1983—after graduating cum laude from Southeastern Louisiana University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications—working as a sports anchor and reporter for WDAM-TV in Hattiesburg, Miss.

When she got her first job, Roberts told the graduates, she pursued her passion and accepted a part-time sportscaster position that paid $5.50 an hour, rather than a cut-in news anchor position that offered $15,000 a year. “Dream big, but focus small,” she said. “Know your strengths and weaknesses.” Roberts said she knew she wasn’t ready for ESPN when they called in 1988. She knew she “wanted staying power” and at that point didn’t feel it was the right time. Two years later they called again and she was confident in taking the next step.

“Even when you reach a certain goal, you have to challenge yourself and be proactive—see the big picture,” extolled Roberts. “You never know what is going to happen to you, but you do know if you put yourself in position, good things will happen, and sometimes you have to go outside your comfort zone.”

Roberts ended her speech with the same enthusiasm, telling the cheering graduates (who were on their feet for a standing ovation) that they had the formula for success and today was the first step.v

The reaction of the graduates made it clear that Roberts did indeed know her audience and she had made an impression—and not just on the students.

“Of the 25 or so commencement addresses I’ve heard at Plymouth, Robin Roberts’ was the best,” says Professor of Education Robert Miller. “Her delivery was spontaneous, enthusiastic and witty. Her message to the graduates was inspirational and important. She never once lost the audience’s attention.”

Dean of the Academic Experience Bob Fitzpatrick was impressed with how quickly she connected with the graduates, noting, “She exuded enthusiasm, sincerity and charisma. I think we were all immediately taken in by her dynamic persona. I liked the way she encouraged our graduates to be willing to take risks in order to pursue their passions. … Her message stressed that life doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing.’ ”

“I thought Robin Roberts was a fabulous speaker,” recalls Diane Jeffrey, director of the Silver Center. “She was amusing, to the point and gave great advice in a simple, straightforward way. … Great advice: seize opportunities that come your way, but make sure you’re ready for them.”

Roberts was chosen as the commencement speaker by the Speaker Selection Committee, made up of the senior class president, vice president and secretary, and member-at-large. They researched a number of potential speakers and reviewed videotapes of past presentations in an effort to choose the right speaker for Plymouth State.

“The speaker selection committee looked for a person with life experiences that would be meaningful to share,” says Senior Class President Cynthia Ortiz. “A person who could deliver a positive, inspirational and motivational message to the graduates and their families.”

Roberts anchors the regular hourly newscasts for ABCNEWS’ popular morning news program from the show’s home base in New York’s Times Square. Roberts, who has been a contributor to Good Morning America since 1995, was named news anchor in 2002 and co-anchor in 2005.

In addition to Good Morning America, Roberts is a regular contributor to other ABCNEWS programs including World News Tonight and 20/20. She has covered a number of headline stories including the debate over stem cell research, Internet adoptions and the Olympics in both Sydney, Australia and Salt Lake City.

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