"Education became a way to honor my relatives and myself."
Aaron, Princeton University

Aaron Robertson

Hometown: Detroit, MI

Princeton University

I was an unexpected but welcomed child. My parents attended the same college in Detroit, where they met, and during the winter of their second year, I was born. The nuclear family was always a dreamy concept for me. For the first six years of my life, I lived with my mother, her parents, and her three siblings. I didn’t really have a relationship with my father growing up (that’s since changed), but his parents were integral to my life.

When I was about seven, my mother met a nice man. I thought he was the smartest person in the world (a Yale man!). Eventually, she and I moved in with him. The three of us (and later, with the birth of my half-sister, the four of us) moved around the outskirts of Detroit. Although I was born in the city, I’d only lived in the suburbs. I seemed to switch schools and homes every couple of years. This meant that I was never the kind of kid with lifelong neighborhood friends. Still, I was a happy, fortunate child. My mother’s nice man laughed, made pancakes, and carried me on his shoulders until he didn’t anymore. For the next four years, he cast his delusions and anxieties onto me. I was verbally and physically abused. The stutter I’d had forever worsened. I became isolated and exhaustingly afraid. He kept my family away from me and brainwashed my mother. Church and school were my solace, the only places that offered healthy interactions with other people. I excelled in the classroom and hid at home.

My life began again when I was thirteen and my mother divorced him. The next five years – from the end of middle school through high school – repaid me with such gifts as I had never known. My family’s love was restorative, and I met mentors and friends who I still think about today. Education became a way to honor my relatives and myself. A friend in high school told me about QuestBridge. I was matched with Princeton and became the first person in my family to attend an Ivy. That meant that I was responsible for more than just myself.

So many wonderful things have happened this past year. Well, first, I learned that I’d be going to graduate school! I received the Rhodes Scholarship to complete a two-year master’s program in modern languages at Oxford, where I’ll be studying contemporary Afro-Italian literature (and hopefully start learning a couple more languages). I also recently finished my most ambitious and rewarding creative/academic endeavor yet: a translation of a 450+ page novel by a wonderful Somali-Italian author named Igiaba Scego. Going forward, I’d like to promote the dissemination and study of African diasporic literature from around the world.

I know how my life looks on paper and, believe me, I’m surprised too. The great thing about QuestBridge is that Michael, Ana, and all the wonderful people there give you an impetus to do better, to use whatever combination of luck and skill you have to pay things forward. As I prepare to go abroad, I think about the odd way that hardship sometimes feeds prosperity. Despite everything, I’m happy, fulfilled, and ready to do so much more.

Written by Aaron Robertson, Princeton University '17, as a part of the QuestBridge Storytelling Week in April 2017. For more stories like this, please visit QuestBridge Storytelling.