Robin Roberts approached the mic, smiled and said all she needed to say in five words.
“It’s good to be home,” she said.
The award-winning newscaster starts her days behind the anchor desk at ABC's "Good Morning America" in New York City. When she makes the 1,300-mile trip back to her alma mater, as she did this month, Southeastern Louisiana University celebrates her return.
Applause erupted from Southeastern alumni as their 1996 Alumnus of the Year met with the assembled crowd in a private room before she stepped into the University Center’s spotlight.
Robins took a breath and placed the mic near her mouth.
The room hushed.
“I have such great pride,” Roberts said of her alma mater. “A few years ago when I was battling breast cancer and feeling very low, Southeastern sent me the biggest stuffed lion you’ve ever seen in your life that I still have with me. I cuddled with it in my recovery."
“The student athletes here at Southeastern spelled out my name on the card, and that’s what this spirit is all about," she added.
The center’s lights dimmed as Roberts stood beside university President John Crain to watch her own green-and-gold banner unfurl. At that moment, she became one of only two Lady Lions to have her basketball jersey retired. Queen Brumfield Nard played for the school in the late 1970s.
“These kinds of events are essential for a university like Southeastern,” Crain said. “It’s a great day for the university and the Southeastern family.”
Roberts played four seasons for the Lady Lions, from 1979 to 1983, under Coaches Linda Puckett and Ace Bryant. She ranks sixth for points scored, fifth for field goals made, fourth for rebounds and free throws made and third for games played.
The distinguished Lady Lion joined Southeastern’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 1991 and became one of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s “100 Most Influential Student-Athletes” in 2006.
Ladies basketball has kept Roberts’ athletic spirit alive at Southeastern, but she attributes her success to the classroom.
“I’m so appreciative of the quality education,” Roberts said, “that I was a student first and then an athlete and how that was encouraged.”
She majored in mass communication and gained experience at local radio stations, including KSLU-FM and WHMD/WFPR Radio, as a sports reporter and director. Roberts graduated in 1983. From there, the Hammond television market was just the beginning.
The Pass Christian, Miss., native lived in Atlanta and Nashville to advance her broadcasting career and later returned to her home state to accept jobs in Biloxi and Hattiesburg. In 1990, she moved up to the big leagues.That’s when ESPN contacted her to join their team as anchor of the popular program “SportsCenter” and co-host of “NFL PrimeTime.” After 15 years with the sports giant, she landed the job that would define her career. In 2005, Roberts accepted her co-anchor position at "Good Morning America" in New York City’s Times Square, where she continues to host two-hour chats and interviews with headliners around the world.
Sally-Ann Roberts, Robin Roberts' sister and co-anchor of WWL-TV’s morning news program in New Orleans, agreed that success starts with education.
“It provided a foundation for everything she did later in life,” she said. “There’s a camaraderie and warmth at this university. Robin is such a role model in our family. It is such an honor to see (jersey) No. 21 up there.”
In Hammond, Roberts was the headline.
Cheers celebrated the jersey retirement as men from the Delta Tau Delta fraternity danced to the rhythm of a small marching band. They painted the phrase “Go Robin!” on their chests, followed by a pink ribbon in honor of Roberts’ battle with breast cancer.
“I thought the (New Orleans) Saints winning (the Super Bowl) last year was the highlight,” she said after Crain presented her with a framed banner that had her number on it. “This is my sports moment.”