Dr. Adnan Zubcevic ’75 received Concord Academy’s 2022 Joan Shaw Herman Award. The award, which is the only honor CA gives, recognizes the leading of a life that helps others. Zubcevic has spent 25 years working with refugees and immigrants and advocating for their mental health.
As part of CA’s Centennial program, Zubcevic gave a talk about his life and service. After a few brief thank-yous, Zubcevic began by asking for a moment of silence for the people killed in Ukraine.
Zubcevic talked about how he had won a scholarship to CA from former Yugoslavia by scoring high on an English exam. While he was at CA, the bicentennial celebration of the United States happened. Zubcevic recalled huge crowds gathering on North Field, celebrating democracy and freedom. As a boy from a ‘socialist country,’ he described the feeling of freedom and democracy as new to him. It was the first time he felt ‘American freedom.’ It transformed a teen crush on American culture into a lasting love of democracy, inclusion, and open-mindedness. He also met his first refugee at CA—a Vietnamese boy in a teacher’s office. Even then, young Zubcevic could see the trauma in the boy’s eyes.
At the end of his senior year, Zubcevic returned to Yugoslavia. He became a doctor, got married, and had a child in 1990. A year later, former Yugoslavia began to fall apart. Soon, his home city of Sarajevo became the center of what would become a three-year siege: By the second year of the siege, money and supplies had run out. Zubcevic’s daughter, Rubina, began to look undernourished. Despite managing to get his wife and daughter out of Sarajevo, Zubcevic himself stayed, though the separation as ‘sheer torture’ for him. He also turned an abandoned store beneath his apartment into an emergency room. During the siege, he lost 55 pounds and ‘all hope in humanity.’ Finally, Zubcevic walked out of Sarajevo. “I crossed the airport runway on foot, and then hiked for three days through the mountains and woods of Bosnia, all the time traveling in-between the front lines [of war],” he spoke. With the help of his old CA host family, Zubcevic was able to move to the U.S. with his family, having secured refugee status.
As soon as Zubcevic arrived, the whole Concord community opened its heart to him. When he landed at Logan Airport as a refugee, his host family from CA was waiting for him. Another CA family opened their home, free of charge, to his family. People from surrounding towns offered resources. Soon, Zubcevic got a job scanning patients for tuberculosis. In 1996, he began to work with a refugee resettlement group and pioneered a program for Yugoslavian refugees. His program included therapy, English language help, and employment assistance. Soon, Zubcevic moved to Mass General Hospital and created a program to remove barriers to treatment for refugees there. Over time, this program expanded its services. It included counseling, employment services, health assessments, and immigration legal assistance, all in refugees’ native languages. It has helped five thousand people and became a national model for refugee assistance. It was, Zubcevic said, the culmination of all he had learned since meeting that first refugee boy at CA.
Zubcevic finished off his speech by talking about how more people are displaced now than at any time in modern history. But he has a ray of hope. Even in the face of great challenges, many refugees he has worked with are resilient; they often do quite well academically, with many pursuing careers in law and justice to make the world a fairer place for all. Nothing makes him as happy as “a big smile on the face of a refugee child,” Zubcevic said.
He received a standing ovation.