Columns

David Lazris: Brown in a quarter century

By
Guest Columnist
Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Syed Ejaz Husain ’86 MD’90 and Andy Lazris ’86 in their freshman dorm, Everett Hall, in 1982.

This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2017

In 1982, an incoming freshman from New Jersey met his roommate, an international student from Pakistan. In their initial conversation, Andy Lazris ’86 and Syed Ejaz Husain ’86 MD’90 both quickly acknowledged that neither of them drank, but they agreed to begin college anew, attending a frat party on Wriston Quad that night. Pretending to drink from their cups but actually pouring their beer on the floor, they soon realized Wriston was not their social scene and left to spend the night talking in their room, quickly becoming friends.

Twenty-one years later in 2013, Syed and Andy reacquainted on Pembroke Green, both dropping off their children to meet their own college roommates at Brown. Syed’s daughter Fatima and I awkwardly sat over a Meeting Street Cafe brunch as these two friends relived their glory days.

While tied together by their room freshman year, their relationship went beyond simple friendship. Both Andy and Syed came in with intentions of entering medicine, Syed already guaranteed admission to the Warren Alpert Medical School through the eight-year Program in Liberal Medical Education. As Syed was new to America, he sought help in how to study, prepare for studying medicine and adjust to life in another country. My father convinced Syed to work at Brown over the summers cutting onions in the basement of the Ratty, while my father cleaned and painted boiler plants for Brown with local Providence residents.

Both Fatima and I entered Brown with the same intention of studying medicine. Yet to be “pre-med” in 1982 was vastly different from what it meant in 2013. Both Fatima and I were told that scrubbing boiler plants would probably not meet medical school admission requirements; instead, we were pushed to do medical research at academic institutions. This is not to say that the older generation did not work as hard  — Syed would wake up before sunrise in order to save study spaces for Andy and other friends on the 12th floor of the Sci Li so they could study throughout the weekend. In the same space of the upper floors of the Sci Li, Fatima and I have met many times to delve into subjects like organic chemistry and seek advice from each other about anything from summer employment to plans for the weekend. Though generations apart, in both ours and our fathers’ experiences inclusion and collaboration superseded the competitive nature of the pre-med track.

As with their focus on inclusion, Brown students have always prided themselves on fostering a socially progressive and forward-thinking campus community. This past fall, the election seemed over when talking to students on campus, with Hillary Clinton the clear projected victor. We envisioned an era of progress continuing through her presidency and a brighter future ahead. Yet as the results trickled in Nov. 8 and news organizations predicted a Donald Trump victory, an eerie and disturbing silence permeated campus. Walking home that night, I did not see a single person on the street.

In 1984, the Brown campus was similarly optimistic about Walter Mondale’s prospects of defeating incumbent Ronald Reagan. When the results were announced, there was a similar shockwave sent through campus, with students bewildered by the massive margin by which Reagan won. In both generation’s college careers, America voted for a president whose beliefs ran counter to the Brown norm of social progressivism. Thirty-two years later, Brown students’ commitment to social progress remains an important and distinctive part of the university’s culture. The policies and candidates have changed, but Brown remains on the forefront of pushing for increased equality in the political and social spheres.

Thirty years later, Andy and Syed are still in constant communication, whether it be about politics, medicine or their children. Their friendship has flourished, though Syed lives in Iowa and my father in Maryland. As I look forward to my future, I cannot help but look back at their past. Though different in many ways, Brown and the inclusion, collaboration and social advancement it upholds are still prevalent on this special campus.