MARIETTA - Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson spoke to a packed auditorium Thursday night at Marietta College's Founder's Day celebration.
Robinson, a frequent commentator on MSNBC cable-TV programs such as "Morning Joe" and "The Rachel Maddow Show," talked about growing up in segregated South Carolina and how he reacted the night Barack Obama was first elected president in 2008.
Robinson was on air at MSNBC that night, and when they announced in his ear piece that they would soon call the election for Obama, Robinson called his father and mother, who were 92 and 87 at the time.
"I was able to tell them they had lived to see the election of the first African American President of the United States," said Robinson.
He also recalled fond memories of traveling through Ohio as a child.
Robinson's family traveled from their home in Orangeburg, S.C., to Ann Arbor, Mich., and would stop right inside the Ohio border to allow Robinson, a hyper child, to let off some energy.
"That playground had the tallest slides and a huge jungle gym," Robinson recalled.
But what he remembered most about the playground was the simple fact that he was allowed to play there.
"There was a playground in Orangeburg. But I couldn't play on it. It was whites only," said Robinson.
Robinson went to an integrated school before the teachers had gotten their minds around the concept of integration, but he used their discrimination to fuel his academic drive, he said.
"There was a geometry teacher who liked to humiliate black students who got anything wrong," he recalled. "I studied geometry five hours a night. I wasn't ever going to get anything wrong."
Robinson, a former assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, won his 2009 Pulitzer Prize for his columns on the historic significance of Obama's election.
And that significance is still growing, he said.
"When Obama was reelected in 2012...we're not talking about race anymore," he said.
And every time Obama and his family are seen walking across the White House lawn, society sees them less and less as the black First Family, and more as just the First Family, Robinson argued.
"That doesn't mean we've reached some Valhalla of racelessness, but we've gotten somewhere," he said.
Robinson was a perfect fit for the college's theme this year of "Leadership and Social Justice," said Tom Perry, Marietta College's executive director of college relations.
"When you hear his story and what he's done and where he's been in a lifetime, I think it's a really good fit for what we try to teach our students about the value of studying abroad and the value of a liberal arts education," he said.
Marietta resident Carol Lane said she was interested in hearing what Robinson had to say about diversity, a topic which Lane has always stressed the importance of to her daughter, Beth, a senior theater major at Marietta College.
"I've always professed diversity to her and encouraged her to travel. It gives us a better world when we know each other better," she said.
Robinson gives smart, balanced commentary when on television, said Vienna resident Jane Harrington. "It's not everyday a Pulitzer Prize winner comes to the Mid-Ohio Valley," she added.
Marietta College freshman Taylor Hanigosky was part of a small group of journalism students who was able to meet with Robinson before Thursday's event.
"He gave us a lot of insight into the field. He talked about things he would have done differently or would do differently if he was just starting in journalism now," she said.
But her biggest takeaway from meeting with Robinson was that her dream of becoming a journalist is possible, said Hanigosky.
Thursday's celebration marked the 178th anniversary of Marietta College's charter on Feb. 14, 1835.