For the past 10 years I kept telling myself it was too late, that I was never going to be able to finish. I realized I was the only thing holding me back.
For Daniel Robinson ‘22, the path to the commencement stage in May was fraught with challenges.
Robinson’s parents separated when he was 3 years old, and he was raised with his four siblings by his mother. “My mother is my anchor to this world,” he said, crediting her for navigating the challenges of raising five biracial children in a community he recalls as beset by racism. “Thanks to her I learned how to be a man, and she instilled great values and ethics into my siblings and I, as well as educated us about the difference we would have to face in the world after leaving home.”
His early school years were challenging, as he was labeled a “bad kid” until he made friends whose parents saw his potential. Excelling academically and in sports, he was recruited to play football at Fitchburg State. “Coming from a small town and a big family, college was a breath of fresh air,” he said. “I had arrived as an adult and left to prove my own abilities.”
But there were more challenges to come. After two years of making the Dean’s List and excelling on the field, Robinson found himself gravitating to partying and alcohol abuse. His grades suffered and he was kicked off the football team. During this time he fathered a child, and he withdrew from the university.
While he would make occasional efforts to resume his studies, they never stuck. “My alcoholism had robbed me of will power and my mind’s capacity was no longer able to complete any task, never mind senior-level curriculum,” he said. “A combination of depression, alcoholism and the death of my grandmother who paid for me to finish my last semester in the spring of 2011 was too much for me, and I withdrew for the final time from Fitchburg State.”
Robinson battled his addiction over the next 10 years and tried to keep his life together. On July 23, 2020, he checked himself into rehab in Florida. In the ensuing two years, he regained control of his life and reclaimed his family. He was also ready to finish what he had started at Fitchburg State.
“What led me back to getting my degree was the fact that it is never too late,” he said. “For the past 10 years I kept telling myself it was too late, that I was never going to be able to finish, that it was going to be too hard, and countless other excuses that I felt justified a reason. With sobriety, the abilities returned and my mind was firing on full capacity, I realized I was the only thing holding me back and with that realization I re-enrolled at Fitchburg State.”
There were still challenges to overcome, but Robinson realized he wasn’t alone. “When the people close to me saw that I had returned, they stood behind me and helped in every and any way they could,” he said, citing the hands-on attention faculty members in the Mathematics Department offered.
Robinson reconnected with faculty members with whom he had first taken courses more than a decade before, who helped him identify which courses to take to satisfy unmet requirements and supplied constant encouragement.
He also reconnected with Professor Christine Cosgrove, who had been his advisor in 2004. “She always had my back and always reached out about my well-being, and continued to do the same in 2022,” he said. “Everything a mother would do for their own child she did for me, and I’m truly grateful.”
Robinson also gave special credit to student Taban Manyok of the Class of 2024, who became another important figure when he returned to school. They met in a residence hall and quickly struck up a friendship.
“Our friendship grew over the semester and he became like a little brother to me,” he said. “Me being 15 years older than him made it easy for me to help him with problems that I had already experienced, and he held me accountable on the days I didn’t want or feel like doing anything. His strong work ethic reminded me of myself at his age and inspired me to be the best version of myself. I believe we were put in contact for a reason. He helped me more than he will ever realize, he is one of the kindest souls I have ever met. We started as friends and now are brothers.”
Late nights studying in the library and hours training in the gym helped build his focus. And, at age 36, Robinson had a different perspective than his younger self. “I was able to see what was really in front of me and be able to complete the tasks at hand,” he said. “I had nothing to prove except that I could live up to my potential. What once caused me fear gave me power, why be scared to be great? So I embraced my gifts, everything my mother had given me, and finished this semester with a 3.44 grade point average and made the dean's list, graduated, and received my BS in mathematics and a minor in electronics engineering.”
Robinson was greeted warmly by members of the mathematics department faculty and other well-wishers after crossing the commencement stage in May, including the retired Professor Cosgrove. Robinson looks to the future with hope and anticipation, looking to utilize his skills in alternative energy, data analytics and electronics engineering. His long-term goal is to start his own energy solutions company to provide non-fossil fuel energy options to residential and commercial consumers.
“I feel as though now I have the key I was missing to a secret entrance,” he said. “Without this degree, my intelligence still did not provide me a chance to enter into a professional career in the STEM field. Today I am a mathematician, and with this degree I’ve unlocked that entrance. I am truly excited for what is next to come. This journey has just begun.”