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Danville man takes unique path to being a scientist

'Educated rule breaker' not afraid to think differently

When Maxwell Bertolero was in high school in Danville nine years ago going through severe depression, he was advised that he'd better get his act together or he'd never succeed.

"I pleaded with the high school deans to let me take time off," he said in his valedictorian speech at Columbia University last week. "They threatened I'd be expelled if I was not at school the next day."

He ended up attending Venture School and pursuing motocross, racing dirt bikes around a track.

"When floating 90 feet above the air with my heart a hummingbird, my anxiety and depression could not touch me," Bertolero explained in his speech.

He moved to Southern California to pursue the sport, breaking bones in the process. Realizing he also had a passion for learning, he enrolled at Orange County College as a philosophy major in 2007.

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Bertolero started at Columbia University School of General Studies in New York in fall 2008, majoring in philosophy and psychology. Since graduating in February, he has been working in Daphna Shohamy's cognitive neuroscience lab at Columbia. He will attend UC Berkeley this fall in a Ph.D. program in cognition, brain and behavior through the psychology department.

One goal he noted is to raise public awareness of the link between the mind and the brain, so educators and people in general will recognize that depression can be due to chemical imbalances, not character flaws.

"During my depression I wasn't freely controlling the storm in my brain," he said. "I wasn't lost in that storm. I was that storm."

In his speech Bertolero, the son of Sarah and Arthur Bertolero, thanked his family, friends and professors for their support.

"He is not only a brilliant scientist but a passionate humanist, a man of integrity and compassion," said Columbia Dean Peter J. Awn when introducing him.

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Besides being valedictorian, Bertolero graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.

"We had many, many parents come up to us after the speech and tell us their stories," emailed Sarah and Arthur Bertolero. "We are hoping this story will help some parents and teens see what can happen with a little support and freedom."

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Danville man takes unique path to being a scientist

'Educated rule breaker' not afraid to think differently

by /

Uploaded: Tue, Jun 12, 2012, 5:14 pm

When Maxwell Bertolero was in high school in Danville nine years ago going through severe depression, he was advised that he'd better get his act together or he'd never succeed.

"I pleaded with the high school deans to let me take time off," he said in his valedictorian speech at Columbia University last week. "They threatened I'd be expelled if I was not at school the next day."

He ended up attending Venture School and pursuing motocross, racing dirt bikes around a track.

"When floating 90 feet above the air with my heart a hummingbird, my anxiety and depression could not touch me," Bertolero explained in his speech.

He moved to Southern California to pursue the sport, breaking bones in the process. Realizing he also had a passion for learning, he enrolled at Orange County College as a philosophy major in 2007.

Bertolero started at Columbia University School of General Studies in New York in fall 2008, majoring in philosophy and psychology. Since graduating in February, he has been working in Daphna Shohamy's cognitive neuroscience lab at Columbia. He will attend UC Berkeley this fall in a Ph.D. program in cognition, brain and behavior through the psychology department.

One goal he noted is to raise public awareness of the link between the mind and the brain, so educators and people in general will recognize that depression can be due to chemical imbalances, not character flaws.

"During my depression I wasn't freely controlling the storm in my brain," he said. "I wasn't lost in that storm. I was that storm."

In his speech Bertolero, the son of Sarah and Arthur Bertolero, thanked his family, friends and professors for their support.

"He is not only a brilliant scientist but a passionate humanist, a man of integrity and compassion," said Columbia Dean Peter J. Awn when introducing him.

Besides being valedictorian, Bertolero graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.

"We had many, many parents come up to us after the speech and tell us their stories," emailed Sarah and Arthur Bertolero. "We are hoping this story will help some parents and teens see what can happen with a little support and freedom."

Comments

Mom
Alamo
on Jun 13, 2012 at 7:17 am
Mom, Alamo
on Jun 13, 2012 at 7:17 am
Like this comment

It is always so nice to hear such a fantastic success story! Any mental illness is so difficult to explain to those who don't understand or don't want to understand. Way to believe in yourself and just go for it!!!


B. Lynn Goodwin-Brown
Danville
on Jun 13, 2012 at 8:16 am
B. Lynn Goodwin-Brown, Danville
on Jun 13, 2012 at 8:16 am
Like this comment

WTG, Maxwell Bertolero.


Jerold Z Kaplan, M.D.
Alamo
on Jun 13, 2012 at 8:56 am
Jerold Z Kaplan, M.D., Alamo
on Jun 13, 2012 at 8:56 am
Like this comment

My congratulations to Max and his family. Everyone needs to realize that "marching to a different drummer" may still lead to success even if the drummer is on a bike! I am sure that Max will do as well at UCB as he did at Columbia.


Danville Dad
Danville
on Jun 13, 2012 at 11:10 am
Danville Dad, Danville
on Jun 13, 2012 at 11:10 am
Like this comment

Kudos also to Venture school. Our son attended during his middle school years and benefited greatly from the experience. The staff there is the best; they truly care for their students. I'm glad to say that my son has since graduated from college, and has been happily employed and pursuing his dream ever since. I'm convinced that his experience at Venture was pivotal in helping him become the person he is now.


Theresa N
Vista Grande Elementary School
on Jun 13, 2012 at 1:43 pm
Theresa N, Vista Grande Elementary School
on Jun 13, 2012 at 1:43 pm
Like this comment

Congratulations Mathew and to your parents. You are a fine example of what so many kids today (including my daughter who also graduated from Venture for the same reasons) that face your challenges. I know you will become an amazing scientist and perhaps one day cure Depression. Thank you for sharing your speech. I am passing it along to my daughter who is after gradating 3 years ago is now finding higher learning one of her passions also.
Good luck to you. & God Bless.


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