In September BU welcomed the 3,591 freshmen of the Class of 2020, each with a unique journey. Photojournalist Jackie Ricciardi wanted to capture some of their stories. So over the summer, she caught a couple in Boston and traveled to Connecticut and North Carolina to photograph another two as they prepared to leave home for their life’s next chapter. She listened to them and their families as they talked about their dreams and fears and the events that have shaped their lives. BU Today continues last year’s “Rite of Passage” series with the stories of five of the newest Terriers. We kicked off with a photo essay of Abbey Janeira (CAS’20), and now with twin brothers James Robson (ENG’20) and Matt Robson (CFA’20), and will bring you the other two in the coming weeks.
Ask James Robson (ENG’20) about the challenges he and his twin brother, Matt Robson (CFA’20), have had to deal with to get to Boston University and he’ll tell you, “That’s a loaded question.” It is also an understatement.
The fraternal twins grew up in Tyngsboro, Mass., with their older sister, Maryrose, now a Harvard senior. Raised by an abusive father and an alcoholic mother, they were placed in foster care in 2008, and went to live with their grandmother, who, along with their two maternal aunts, cared for them.
In 2011, things were looking up. The boys’ mother had made great progress in her recovery, and they were set to move back with her on New Year’s Day. But on December 26, she had a heart attack, and died the next morning. Matt and James had to return to the foster care system. Their grandmother was granted custody, but shortly after a series of falls, was diagnosed with liver cancer and heart disease. She passed away when they were sophomores in high school.
Both James and Matt credit their grandmother, their aunts, their mother, and their sister with motivating them to work hard. “My grandmother pushed me a lot,” says Matt, who struggles with dyslexia and dyscalculia. “She obviously helped me with spelling and reading, and when I was really frustrated or got a really bad headache, she would always help me.”
James says his aunts and his sister continue to inspire them. “They support us through everything, and I’m so thankful for everything they’ve done for us. They’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices. Their confidence in us and their support for whatever we choose to do is amazing.”
The brothers say that the adversities they’ve faced have helped them discover their respective passions, which they plan to pursue at BU.
James is majoring in biomedical engineering at the College of Engineering and hopes to do research in cardiac tissue engineering, motivated by the loss of both his mother and his grandmother to the disease.
Matt, who turned to theater to escape the troubles of his childhood, is enrolled in the School of Theatre, where he plans to focus on design and production. He found that theater was a place where he didn’t need to spell or read perfectly—there were other skills he could develop, like lighting design. And while he’s looking forward to the school’s large spaces and working with more sophisticated equipment, he’s especially excited about collaborating with people who care as deeply about the theater as he does. “That’s why I picked BU, because everyone was so passionate about the work,” he says.
James is also looking forward to being with students who share his interests—engineering and music. An accomplished saxophone player, he took up the instrument because his sister excels at it. “I’m most looking forward to meeting new people and doing the things that I love with people that have the same passions as me,” he says.
The brothers say it’s a coincidence that they wound up at the same university: neither knew the other had applied to BU until they were accepted. And when it came time to choose where to live, they decided not to room together: James is living on Bay State Road and Matt is in Claflin Hall. With their schedules, it’s hard to get together regularly, but they’ve found time to meet, most recently at Sunset Cantina. “It was a nice opportunity for us to catch up on how the semester has gone so far,” says James. “We’re there to support each other, and we’ll help each other when we need it.”
On His Motivation
“ I want to do everything I can for other families…”
James RobsonAudio — 51 Seconds
On His Grandmother
“ It was never about her, it was always helping other people.”