David Sheinfeld: Brothers at Brown

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Thursday, May 21, 2015
This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2015

Because I am terrible at icebreakers and grew up in the quiet suburbs, having three brothers is usually my go-to fun fact. I know it’s lame, but it gets the job done and lets me share some of the funny stories from our childhood, like when Jon insisted he saw a monkey driving a car or when Jon hit a baseball into outer space. Most of the stories are about Jon. He’s a character.

The four of us are very different. Mike is quiet, with a quick wit and analytical mind; Jon is a goober who exudes passion and fire from every pore; Andrew is the hardest worker I know and possesses more self-control than I thought possible; and I’m the one who isn’t as funny as he thinks and tries (mostly fails) to approach situations with reason and sensitivity. These differences have manifested themselves throughout our lives, but especially in academia. Mike rocked math, Jon bubbled over with ideas that he had trouble articulating in writing through his excitement, and Andrew took immense pride in the red number at the top of a test. We were, and still are, as different as four boys could be while still sharing a gene pool.

When Mike matriculated to Brown, I was confused. Mike didn’t seem like the people with purple and teal hair who I saw on campus when I went with him to visit. He was reserved and soft-spoken. How could this place be for him?

When I applied two years later, I was pretty surprised myself. I valued calm and level-headedness, and Brown seemed like a place where passion and raw energy dominated. On top of that, unlike Lil Bow Wow, I didn’t think I was “like Mike.” Why was I drawn to this place?

The same story with Jon and Andrew, twins, two years later. So different and so similar, they applied and were accepted early decision. How could this place be for all of us? Don’t we, and the Admission Office, know that we shouldn’t have all ended up at the same school?

I got to Brown and, much by happenstance, didn’t cross paths with Mike. The twins joined two years later, after Mike graduated, and while we do have some substantial overlap, we’ve each found the corner of campus that is our own.

But this isn’t about how Brown is different for every person and how everyone can find a home here and feel comfortable. It partially isn’t about that because that isn’t true for everyone, and I’m blessed that I’ve found such areas for myself. To suggest that four brothers finding identities for themselves that don’t overlap among 6,000 other people is that hard would be absurd. It’s not about finding a niche that fits your conception of yourself and being glad that you’ve found the people you think are most like you.

It’s about adopting some of Jon’s passion and big thinking and some of Andrew’s hard work and dedication and some of Mike’s incisive thinking. If you’re me, it’s about opening up to spontaneity and impulse when caution is what feels familiar and safe. So the next story I tell is going to be as big (read: exaggerated) as Jon’s, the next pun will be as cerebral as Mike’s, and the next time I want to cut a corner, Andrew’s need to always provide his best work will check me.

What is special to me about Brown is that there are so many more Jons and Andrews and Mikes around whose characteristics I have admired and adopted for myself, sometimes without even knowing them personally. They find meaning in dissecting fruit flies and in looking at rocks and, yes, even in economics; they find it with megaphones in their hands and hoarse voices in their throats; they find it on the field or with an instrument in hand or hunched over a table holding a brush. From them I have learned and loved worlds that I never would have considered my own. Sometimes it feels like there is nowhere else in the world that I will find so many role models, but I know that’s not entirely true. I will find Mike’s mind and Jon’s animation and Andrew’s resolve and Brown’s dynamism around me wherever I go — as long as I remember how to look.

Next year, David Sheinfeld will be transitioning from being a tri-state area Jew in Westchester to a Bay Area Jew in San Francisco. His mother is slowly coming to terms with it, even though she will still have her other three boys within arm’s reach.

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