Have you seen Vladislav “Vladi” Berezovsky?Each day as students pack the campus’ hallways and walkways with the intent to get from point A – car, class, Jamba Juice – to point B – Jamba Juice, class, car – it is understandable that some might miss seeing the junior political science major – but not likely.
Berezovsky has cerebral palsy, a condition that causes him to have significant involuntary muscle spasms, making eating, talking and walking difficult and necessitating that he get around campus via a motorized wheelchair.
At first glance, the most obvious thing about Berezovsky, the thing that compels some to do a double-take or stare, is also the least important to both Berezovsky and classmate Diane Wasserman, a woman who looked past his physical limitations and discovered something more meaningful: friendship.
Berezovsky can often be seen on the first floor of Sierra Hall. Whether killing time between classes or waiting for a van service that he said is never on time, his infectious smile awaits those who take the time to greet him. He is not a man who “suffers” from cerebral palsy. In fact, based on his near-perpetual smile, he does not appear to be suffering from much.
“I think it’s a family thing,” Berezovsky said. “We’re all like that.”
Born in Russia, Berezovsky, 28, came to the United States with his parents when he was 2 and has a younger brother who was born in the United States.
He grew up in the San Fernando Valley and earned an associate’s degree in Liberal arts and Sciences from Los Angeles Valley College, before enrolling at CSUN. He hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree within the next year or two.
“That’s my biggest wish, to graduate,” Berezovsky said.
After graduation, he would like to use his political science skills to work for the government in some capacity.
Not one to speak up during class because people have difficulty understanding him, Berezovsky nevertheless said he enjoys when class discussions get contentious as political views fly around the room.
“I like to fight,” he said. “That’s what gets me going.”
He just wishes more people knew it.
If his biggest wish is to graduate, Berezovsky’s second wish might be for people, students, strangers and professors, to understand him when he speaks.
“Nobody can understand me except my friends,” Berezovsky said.
Friends like Diane Wasserman.
“I understand him perfectly,” said Wasserman, a senior liberal studies major. “I get it. (God) knows why.”
Berezovsky and Wasserman met informally last semester through Wasserman’s boyfriend, who had Berezovsky for a class. Their friendship grew this semester when they became classmates and Berezovsky asked Wasserman if she would be willing to take notes for him, since his physical tremors don’t allow him to. Despite carrying 17 units and working full time, Wasserman, already taking notes for another disabled student, agreed.
She could receive money from the university for her work, which includes typing out the notes once a week and bringing copies to class, but she chooses not to. She said the work helps her review the material.
“So why should I get paid for something that helps me?” she asked.
Wasserman is more than willing to talk about “Vladi” the person, but prefers not to focus on his disability.
“I don’t like to talk to him about his disability,” Wasserman said. “I view him as a person, not a person with a disability. There is definitely more to him then that.
“(He’s) the happiest guy I know,” Wasserman said. “For someone with as many problems as he has, he doesn’t have any problems. (He) doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He doesn’t let anything get him down, which is good. More people should adopt his attitude.”
Berezovsky and Wasserman burgeoning friendship has not gone unnoticed by her boyfriend, senior international business major, Julian DeSalay.
“He teases me that I have a new boyfriend, but it’s nothing serious,” Wasserman said. “(DeSalay) is pretty supportive of it, so it’s cool.”
In fact, DeSalay occasionally joins the two friends on their frequent outings.
“We hang out at school,” Wasserman said. “I’ve been to (Berezovsky’s) house. We hang out all the time. We’ve gone to (Universal) City Walk and ate lunch.”
At the City Walk, Wasserman noticed that people were staring at Berezovsky.
“It bothered me more,” Wasserman said. “It hurts my feelings, but he’s not even phased by it.”
Why do people stare?
“They fear what they don’t understand,” Wasserman said. “They think he’s different, and he’s not.”
Like many other students, Berezovsky wants to have a rich-collegiate experience.
“I want to join a fraternity,” Berezovsky said. “I rushed. It was fun.”
Both Wasserman and DeSalay are involved in Greek life, so they took Berezovsky to visit three different fraternities during Rush Week.
Although not officially invited in as a member, one fraternity encouraged Berezovsky to come back next semester, and said they would try and get funding to make their house wheelchair-accessible, and another fraternity invited Berezovsky to attend events this semester.
Berezovsky spends much of his free time with family and friends. Wasserman said his cell phone never stops ringing. Although he is not in a relationship now, he would like to be and leaves open the possibility of marriage.
“If I fall in love with a person,” Berezovsky said. “But if not, I doubt it.”
Would he like to have children?
“Yeah, hopefully, (two) kids, a boy and a girl,” Berezovsky said.
“I think everyone wants that.”
Wasserman said the only limitations that Berezovsky has are outside of his control.
“Although he wants to do things, society holds him back because technology is not as good as it should be,” Wasserman said. “If he could do it, he would. He’s not afraid of anything.”
Despite his upbeat attitude, certain restrictions frustrate Berezovsky. The van service he uses, in which Berezovsky pays two dollars per ride and the government pays the rest, is good only for a 50-mile radius.
“That sucks, but oh well,” Berezovsky said, repeating a phrase that offers insight to his keep-looking-forward-attitude that Wasserman spoke of.
He recently had to wait several weeks for the university to find and hire a student to assist him with computer research in a political science lab. Until the student-aid showed up, Berezovsky was not able to do much in the class – except return. Which he did, again and again.
Berezovsky said he recently ordered a communication device that he hopes will make his life at CSUN easier.
“I want to communicate with my professors,” Berezovsky said. “They don’t understand me.”
Diane Wasserman understands him.
“She’s my best friend,” Berezovsky said.
“I would say he’s one of my best friends, too,” Wasserman said. “In a short time, we’ve clicked.”
Clearly she sees something in Berezovsky worth looking at.
Rick Coca can be reached at email@example.com.