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Cronkite Award recipient Robin Roberts inspires Downtown students of all majors

The applause inside the Walter Cronkite School could not have been louder when ABC’s “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts stepped on stage.

As the recipient of the 2014 Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism, Roberts was interviewed by Assistant Dean and News Director Mark Lodato on Sunday afternoon. Roberts shared her experiences in journalism and the lessons she has learned.

A communications graduate from Southeastern Louisiana University, Roberts began her broadcast-journalism career in college as a sports director for WHMD/WFPR radio in Hammond, La. From there, Roberts said she worked as a reporter and anchor for four stations in six and a half years before joining ESPN in 1990.

“Full disclosure, sports was my passion,” Roberts said. “I realized in high school that I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete. That’s when my big sister and mentor said, ‘Why don’t you combine your passion for sports with the interest you have in journalism?’ and I was delighted. I loved every aspect of it.”

Roberts’ older sister, Sally-Ann Roberts, is an anchor of a CBS-affiliate news program in New Orleans. As a child, Roberts said it was remarkable to turn on the television and see her older sister reading the news.

“I really had the benefit of my big sister being so giving,” Roberts said. “She allowed me to tag along and go with her to work, and fast-forward, she was my bone-marrow donor, so she saved my life. She holds a very special place in my heart.”

In 2005, Roberts was promoted to co-anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America” alongside George Stephanopoulos, she said. Together, the pair helped place the show at No. 1 in the competitive morning show ratings.

But in 2011, Roberts took a leave of absence in order to receive treatment for myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare bone-marrow disorder, which was a reaction to her chemotherapy and radiation treatments for breast cancer in 2007.

“Sally-Ann is eight years older than I am,” Roberts said. “She willed herself to be my donor. Our family motto is ‘We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.’ She said that she felt that she was born to save my life, which was wonderful.”

Roberts said despite the life-threatening medical complication she faced, she has chosen to remain optimistic about life. She said a contributing quality to her happiness is gratitude.

“We are grateful to the viewers,” Roberts said. “We just completed the second year as No. 1 … it’s just wonderful.”

Journalism student Courtney Mally said it was this quality in Roberts that stood out to her.

“I have grown up watching GMA,” Mally said. “Just knowing she’s so humble and knowing that she works and lives her life through gratitude is so inspiring. That’s what I aspire for and it makes me feel more comfortable and ambitious for my career.”

Another piece of advice that Roberts imparted to the crowd was threefold: Be curious, be authentic and don’t be afraid.

“Please don’t be afraid,” Roberts said. “Don’t be afraid to fail or be afraid to succeed.”

This advice resonated beyond just the aspiring journalists of the crowd. Nursing student Beth Anne Suchocki said seeing Roberts and speaking to her meant the world, and that the advice given was taken to heart.

“I tweeted that, I loved it,” Suchocki said. “You’re always getting critiqued no matter what major you’re in, whether it’s grades in clinicals or journalism or whatnot. Robin is super-sweet and honest and that’s what comes across both in person and on television. She’s so genuine and it’s nice to see someone successful like that who’s down to earth.”

Roberts will also speak Monday at the Cronkite Award Luncheon, which will be held at 11:30 a.m. at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel.

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