Three visitors share stories of personal courage

Three recent visitors to the School shared their stories of personal courage in Hall: Pakistani journalist Pir Zubair Shah (April 10), cardiothoracic surgeon and Holocaust survivor Dr. Robert Berger (April 17), and Dr. Andrew Goldstein, a professional athlete who came out during his playing career (April 26).

In 2009 Mr. Pir Shah, as a reporter for The New York Times, shared the Pulitzer Prize with three others for their distinguished coverage of the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Born in Pakistan, Mr. Shah graduated from university in Islamabad in 2001 and intended to pursue a career in foreign service. However, as the media descended upon Afghanistan and Pakistan after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Mr. Shah’s background and English-language skills suddenly put him in high demand. In his years of reporting from that region, Mr. Shah has seen fellow journalists and friends tortured, and one killed. In 2008, he himself was held prisoner by the Taliban for five days and was later detained by Pakistani government interrogators. Mr. Shah fled Pakistan in 2010 (more afraid of reprisals from the government for his reporting than from the Taliban) and has yet to return. He is currently an international Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, studying the art of narrative journalism. One of his most recent investigative pieces, "My Drone War," examines the effect on US and Pakistan relations of the American drone warfare on Pakistanis, and appears in the March/April 2012 issue of Foreign Policy.

Dr. Robert Berger, director of clinical research in the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a Holocaust survivor, has enjoyed a successful and renowned medical career. But the events leading up to his arrival in the US just after WWII set him apart from many of his peers.

At age 14 he lost everything that stood for family and security when German and Hungarian police brutally broke into his home, forcing his family into hiding. It was 1944 in Hungary, and young Robert survived by posing as a Christian with false identification papers, working during the day as an errand boy at a factory and at night for the Resistance. He never saw his family again, but ultimately made his way to Boston, alone. After a year of academic preparation through a special program offered at Boston Latin, he entered Harvard, and later Boston University School of Medicine. In the 1990s, Dr. Berger received international attention when he entered the controversy about whether modern medicine should use findings from Nazi medical “experiments” conducted on Jewish and other concentration camp prisoners. The publication of his ground-breaking research ended the debate by proving that the Nazi research was largely fraudulent.

Recalling the bombing of Budapest by the Allies, Dr. Berger described how he and his friends would find a good vantage point to watch the spectacle and cheer for the Allies ("the British would bomb at night, and the Americans during the day…"), no matter the destruction. "I was very much at peace because I knew—better than at any other time in my life—the difference between good and evil."

Dr. Andrew Goldstein told his coming-out story as the first American male team-sport professional athlete to be openly gay during his playing career.

Dr. Goldstein hails from a family of talented athletes: his sister played hockey for Brown and his brother played lacrosse for Amherst. “When I was born, my father placed a hockey puck in my crib at Beth Israel.” Athletic like his siblings, he also knew even before puberty that he was gay. “I could be tough, I loved playing sports, but I couldn’t do heterosexuality.” Suffering deeply with the secret for years, he couldn’t bring himself to tell anyone until well into his college career.

A biochemistry and molecular biology major at Dartmouth, he was twice selected as the lacrosse team’s MVP and was a 3-time All-Ivy League Selection and 2-time NCAA Division 1 All-American Lacrosse player. After scoring a history-making goal during the NCAA Tournament against Syracuse in his sophomore season, he found the courage to come out to his team. The team gradually rallied to the news. Some teammates apologized for the homophobic references with which they had probably offended their teammate countless times over the seasons. Rather than find himself rejected by his team, Andrew felt accepted, and that some of them even had his back. Homophobic slurs may be intended only as a boost to machismo in the locker room, but according to Dr. Goldstein, if you really want to be a man, stand up for what’s right. “The manliest thing you can do is to stick up for each other.”

Coming out didn’t hold him back as an athlete, either. His on-the-field play drew the attention of Major League Lacrosse; he was drafted by the Boston Canons in the 2005 draft and played for the Long Island Lizards in 2006. Dr. Goldstein went on to earn a PhD in molecular biology at UCLA, and in 2011 he joined the faculty at UCLA in the Broad Stem Cell Research Center and currently runs a research laboratory investigating prostate stem cells and prostate cancer. Concurrently, Dr. Goldstein is active in organizations that work to raise consciousness about homophobia.

Related links:

ESPN article

2004 article by Andrew Goldstein

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