In recognition of the 60th anniversary of desegregation at the University of Georgia, the College of Pharmacy sponsored “60 at 60,” a unique celebration that highlighted more than 60 PharmDawg faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends who exemplify the spirit of inclusiveness on the College’s social media pages. Culminating 60 at 60 was the inaugural William T. Robie III Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lecture & Award, which had more than 300 individuals in virtual attendance. These events took place earlier this year during Black History Month. To see this landmark lecture, which featured Robie, the first African American to graduate from the College, see the full recording here. The 60 at 60 features are available here.
In honor of this occasion, Mr. Robie answered a few questions about his experience as a student and alumnus of the UGA College of Pharmacy.
All these years later, how does it make you feel knowing you were the first African-American student to graduate from the UGA College of Pharmacy?
It is a privilege to have the opportunity to share with young students who will be such an important part of our society and our communities, and in particular, working as pharmacists.
When I first came to UGA, I was totally unprepared for the college environment that awaited me. I felt rejected, ignored, and treated as if I were not welcomed in the College of Pharmacy nor in my dormitory where I unknowingly became the first and only African-American student to reside. The only person who befriended me was the janitor who could neither read nor write.
Soon after school started, I realized how isolated I was not having study partners or friends to discuss pharmacy classes and not being invited to join fraternities, college organizations, or participate in sports (as African-American students were not allowed to participate even in Georgia football). Due to these experiences, I quickly became angry, bitter, and lonely and would stay by myself in the dorm during Georgia football games, at Sanford stadium, because I could not relate to the students and felt too uncomfortable.
Looking back, it was not my goal to be the first of anything. I just wanted a college degree and to have a good career in life. It took me over thirty years to forgive the University. Thank God for the Lord Jesus Christ who opened my eyes to teach me it was not the people, but rather destructive characteristics and habits that existed in humanity. I thank God that I came to understand that one of my missions and purpose in life is to help young people and others faced with similar challenges to have hope, vision, and confidence that they will survive and be able to rise above such difficulties.
I feel a great responsibility to share the lessons that I learned from my experiences as a college student, my career as a pharmacist and my personal life. These are lessons that can be of great value to young people. For many will be leaving home for the first time, coming into a new challenging environment of college life and then being thrust into their professional careers with tremendous responsibilities, opportunities and increased income. These are the transitional times in their lives as there are many things that pharmacy school cannot teach about life or managing difficult decisions.