Robin Roberts has been a journalist and a beloved on-air personality across the country for more than 25 years, first with ESPN and then Good Morning, America. In addition to covering everything from presidents to natural disasters to the Pope, Roberts has shared her own battles with breast cancer and myelodysplastic syndrome, for which she received a bone marrow transplant from her sister in 2012. She's in Sarasota today as part of the Ringling College Library Association's Town Hall lecture series.
On the Oscars:
It’s festive, it’s upbeat, but it’s very difficult when you work on a morning show and you’re in L.A. Because the Oscars finish up about 10-11 o’clock, and then you’re backstage doing interviews. So I get back to my room—I’d pre-ordered a hamburger and it’s waiting for me in my hotel room. And then we’re awake at 1 o’clock. Because we have to be on-air at 4 o’clock to do the after-Oscar party.
On the current political climate:
I remember asking my mother, “Why do you think your children have done so well in life?” I thought she was going to say something really high-brow, but my mother said, “Because I taught you children manners.” I think that goes a long way.
[The rhetoric] does get uncomfortable, especially when it got a little off-color, because we want our children to watch this political process. How do you explain to a young person some of the things that were being said? I can understand the passion in wanting to be President of the United States. Just tell me what it is that you stand for, you don’t need to tear down anyone else.
On sharing her health battles publicly:
It wasn’t my intention when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. I was going to stay private with it, and I did for quite a while. But then my mother, may she rest in peace, said, “Honey, make your mess your message. You are going to have resources that other people may not have, so be their voice.” I made sure that everything I shared on the air could be helpful to other people.
We had this series daring our anchors to do something. And they said to me, "We want you to do a fashion show." I had my trusty little anchor wig on, and right before I walked out on the runway, I took the wig off. No one knew I was going to do it, the lights were bouncing off my bald head. And I’ll never forget, there was a mother who contacted me and said she was watching that morning with her child. The child said, “Why doesn’t Robin have any hair?” And she explained, “She had to take some medicine to make her better.” She had a conversation with her child that she would not normally have had. I’m very grateful that my journey has been able to help others.
Mayada, a senior at Booker High School asked, “If you could advise your younger self to do one thing, what would it be?”
Not to be so afraid. I’m double-nickels—55 [years old]. As you get older, you just relax more. I would tell my younger self to breathe, to be more confident in my path. I’d also tell my younger self, what other people think of me is none of my business. And that character is so far more important than reputation. Reputation is who people think you are; character is who you really are.
Dominic, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School asked, “Being in the public sphere, especially as a woman, and a woman of color, how do you feel your path has differed from your peers who fit maybe a more traditional mold?”
When I was coming up in broadcasting, I was one of the first women, and the first woman of color, to work on air at ESPN back in the 1990s. When you’re a woman in sports, especially back then, people were like, “Did you play?” And I was like, “Yes, I did play in college. I had an opportunity to go pro but I didn’t.” They were challenging me, and I had all this wealth of experience, and they didn’t doubt my male colleagues, and the last time they played is when they got cut from Little League.
I always internalized that and made it a positive. I made sure I was always prepared. I was confident that I knew I was supposed to be where I was.