Ashley Robinson knew early on she did not want to spend her life fishing for lobster off the Maine coast.
Instead, she wanted to get away from the rough economy and drug problems that plague Down East and took the life of her brother five years ago.
On Saturday Robinson, 33, joined 850 other Husson University graduates in accepting her diploma at the Cross Insurance Center. She did it wearing a necklace with the colors of her late brother’s lobster trap buoys and a second necklace with a miniature of a lobster measuring tool, engraved with his fishing license number.
Just before joining the rest of the class of 2023 to march into the auditorium, Robinson reflected on that loss and what her own future holds as she heads off to Boston to attend law school in the fall.
Five years ago her brother Adam, 30, died from an overdose in their hometown of Sullivan. The tragedy would shape Robinson’s academic career.
“I really want to study criminal law and become a prosecutor,” she said. “I would love to come back to Maine and work within the local community.”
She wants to fight not only the ongoing opioid epidemic in the state but also for the rights of people affected by the hard drugs funneling in here.
“I want to give back to all the people who never got or get justice,” Robinson said. “My brother died in this guy’s driveway and everyone who was there just ran off because they did not want to be found there with his body.”
That spirit of giving back is a big part of what bonded the class of 2023, a group of students who started classes before the pandemic and are now graduating just as health officials say its grip is loosening.
“All of you have been part of an amazing journey,” Husson President Robert Clark told the graduates in his opening remarks. “You have been challenged by the pandemic that changed the world and you came out the other side.”
The graduates were encouraged to continue the community service they started at Husson and to build on the successes they experienced as undergraduates.
“When you first came here you were unsure and wandering the halls of buildings looking for classrooms,” Ryan Wheelock, university student government president. “Since then you have evolved into leaders and role models.”
Among them, members of the class of 2023 have devoted close to 10,000 of volunteer service in the community with agencies like American Red Cross, the Bangor Humane Society and local women’s shelters.
As she got ready to march into the auditorium and accept her diploma, Robinson said she can’t wait to get started making a difference. And she knows she won’t be alone.
“I know [Adam] is with me,” she said. “There are so many other people I knew and grew up with that got into drugs and passed away, I want to give back for them.”
Robinson believes if the state had well-funded programs to help people dealing with drugs, her brother would have been there to watch her graduate. It breaks her heart that he had gotten clean for a couple of years before once again using heroin and fentanyl.
“Our health care and mental health care has such limited resources,” she said. “We need to get more resources devoted to help people like my brother in need.”
Before she heads off to Boston this fall, Robinson will continue to work full time this summer as an in-home personal caregiver and perhaps join her father on his lobster boat.