Award-winning journalist Robin Roberts emphasized that “everybody’s got something” to a packed Palestra on Oct. 14, as she discussed her career journey and her battles against cancer.
At times serious and at others humorous, Roberts sought to be a “beacon of hope” for anyone going through something.
Before even beginning her speech, Roberts — who wore a yellow jacket to her speech — joked about her own personal connection to the University.
“I spent a lot of time in Richard’s office,” she said of prominent UR alum Richard Liebner. “I know your school colors very well. Instead of Rocky it’s Robin the Yellow Jacket.”
Roberts encouraged the audience to always have an optimistic outlook on life. She referenced her parents as playing a critical role in instilling positivity in her from a young age.
“I was taught early on that optimism is a muscle that gets stronger with use,” Roberts said. “We’re all a little bit stronger than we think we are.”
She had to exercise that muscle a lot when cancer struck her life twice in the span of five years. First with breast cancer and then with myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of leukemia. Ironically, she said, the treatment that saved her life from breast cancer put it in jeopardy with myelodysplastic syndrome.
“I didn’t know how much to share with people,” Roberts said. “When we are diagnosed, it not just us, it’s our entire family and coworkers are diagnosed along with us.”
There were audible gasps from the audience when she explained how a doctor gave her one or two years to live upon her diagnosis with MDS.
Roberts related how she went to her mother for guidance on if she should keep her diagnosis private. Her mother directed her to be the voice for people who did not have any of the resources she had.
“My mother said, ‘Make your mess your message,’” Roberts said, while tearing up.
That message was “everybody has something,” a message Roberts said her mother used to deliver.
Roberts painted an image of everybody putting their problems into a pot in the middle of the floor. She explained that no matter how bad everybody think’s their biggest problem is, each person would keep their personal problems over anyone else’s in a heartbeat.
“You never know what someone else is going through,” she added. “You don’t know what others are going through. But my mama taught we that we all have more in common than not.”
During her speech and subsequent interview with 13-WHAM anchor Jennifer Johnson, Roberts repeatedly expressed that part of what helped her get through each challenge in life was an optimistic outlook.
“While I do not know what your something is, I hope with all my heart that I can be a symbol for you that this too shall pass,” Roberts concluded, to a standing ovation.
Attendees left the speech inspired.
“‘Everybody’s got something’ – I think it’s a good perspective for everyone to have,” David Bross ‘82 said. “She shows a strong character. With all the odds against her, she really focused her life on her inner strength and family to get through it.”
Mitch Wasserman, the parent of a freshman, felt empowered by the speech.
“She’s an inspiration to everyone, not just women, and not just African Americans,” Wasserman said. “I think people can take a lesson from her experiences. It made me feel stronger and more optimistic.”
Others felt that Roberts’ message resonated with their own lives.
“I think she was awesome,” Mary Jo Hogrefe, whose son is a junior at UR, said. “She has a very positive outlook. Sharing her own adversity helps us conquer our own problems.”
Some left the speech speechless and were at a loss of words when approached by the Campus Times.
Rena Volkan, whose son is a freshman, only had one thought: “I just think she’s really inspirational.”