Fatima Husain: The changing of the generations

Guest Columnist
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2017

Making your way to the top of College Hill is not always easy. In the fall of 1982, fresh off his flight from Islamabad, Pakistan and totally alone, Syed Ejaz Husain ’86 MD’90 trekked up the uneven cobblestone sidewalk with his suitcase encasing all of his belongings for college. The young international student’s bus driver told him buses didn’t go up the hill and left Syed at the intersection of North Main and Waterman on a hot summer day. When the sweat-drenched, overdressed and mustachioed 19-year-old finally arrived at Faunce House, he asked fellow students for directions before finding his new dormitory, Everett Hall. Once he settled in and oriented himself within the campus, he embarked upon two intertwined journeys. The first: navigating Brown as an international undergraduate student; the second, and perhaps more daunting: living in the United States, which he would soon call his permanent home.

Syed’s small world grew magnitudes during his time at Brown, thanks to the welcoming and collaborative atmosphere Brown is still famous for today. That is not to say that Brown was not competitive at the time — in fact, alums often point out that Brown’s admissions were more competitive than Harvard’s, certainly validating a certain t-shirt still sold in the Brown Bookstore today. Brown was the place to be, but it was still quite easy to be out of place at Brown. Though both Brown and the United States have seen immense social, academic and cultural progress over the past decades, many students, international or not, still feel similarly out of place.

Perhaps what helped Syed jumpstart his journeys most during his time at Brown was his friendship with his freshman-year roommate, Andy Lazris ’86, a bright young history buff eager to take full advantage of Brown’s open curriculum. The two bonded immediately, though they came from entirely different cultural and social backgrounds — Syed from conservative and nascent Pakistan and Andy from progressive New Jersey.

The two developed a unique relationship that combined traditional friendship and mentorship. Though the two young men shared similar interests — most notably medicine — their levels of preparation for college were vastly different. Primarily educated in Pakistan and England, Syed found that his study methods and unfamiliarity with the liberal arts hindered his ability to explore new subject areas while still successfully completing the rigorous pre-medical curriculum Brown offered. Andy, on the other hand, relished the opportunity to delve into history and challenged himself often by taking upper-level courses as an underclassman. The contrast exemplifies Brown’s commitment to nurturing personal academic interests — students may pursue whatever they wish to study.

Syed concentrated in biology and Andy in history, though both eventually attended medical school in the following years. Though the two continued their strong friendship in the years after college through email and phone calls, the now-practicing physicians reunited in person in the fall of 2013, when it was time to drop off their own children at Brown: myself and David Lazris, both graduating this year in the class of 2017.

One generation later, a new friendship began to develop. But our journeys are very different. Instead of spending days cooped up in the upper levels of the Sci Li (we now only spend hours there) or spending most of our evenings at the East Campus Dining Center, David and I have been able to branch out. David is on the crew team and performs medical research during his summers, while I have served as the science editor for The College Hill Independent and work in an organic geochemistry lab. David concentrated in history while I chose to concentrate in geochemistry. David and I both pursued the pre-medical curriculum, and we took many classes together as our fathers did. Like our fathers before us, we have been able to bond over the difficulty of classes and our satisfaction with being able to pursue the subject areas toward which we are most drawn. 

When David and I meet up, we often find artifacts from our fathers’ friendships in our own. We relay our respective fathers’ stories to one another and find much-needed humor in the nostalgia that we ourselves will hopefully feel one day. We also find comfort in knowing that we share experiences relatable to those of our fathers — stressful exam periods, excitement for Spring Weekend and awe for Professor Ken Miller ’70 P’02, who taught his famous biology course even then.

So much has changed since then. Brown   and America are different. Yet, like always, Brown students are ready to engage in debate and discussion, all while focusing heavily on furthering their own liberal educations. From one generation to another, Brown continues to foster critical conversations and challenge us to embark on our own journeys with confidence and knowledge.

And when we depart from thy friendly protection,

And boldly launch out upon life’s stormy main,

We’ll oft look behind us with grateful affection,

And live our bright college days over again.

— “Alma Mater,” James Andrews DeWolf, class of 1861