Wednesday, March 19, 2008

In Memory of a Student

As graduate students, we often don't feel very connected to the undergraduate community. I know that my interaction with the major constituency at UCLA is extremely limited. But in my time at UCLA, I got to know Elias Ibrahim, a physiological science major who once took History of Rock n' Roll. For those of you who don't read the daily bruin or who don't notice major uproars on facebook, you may have missed that this extremely bright and warmhearted student recently passed away. Elias distinguished himself as being that brave student to ask a funny, but somewhat inappropriate question in an extremely large lecture hall. My colleague, Erica, had just given a guest lecture about Bob Dylan during the early 1960s and Elias asked, "But why does he sound so stoned?" Twenty minutes later, the professor of the class, Robert Walser, shot back, "So do you, dude!" It was a funny moment and he took it well.

Since that class, I had seen Elias everywhere around school. It seemed like he was always on campus getting involved in something. He always acknowledged me when he passed me on Bruin Walk even if he didn't remember exactly how he knew me. (This is all too common to TAs... students often don't recognize us outside of that teaching context.) I had my last conversation with him at the UCLA Bike Shop, where he and I were both doing some minor maintenance on our bikes. I had seen him there before, and we struck up a conversation. After a few minutes, he realized that I had been one of the TAs for the Rock n' Roll class. He told me he enjoyed the class, that it wasn't what he expected ("We learned the entire history of American Popular Music! We really got the big picture!), and that he was looking forward to medical school. As a teaching assistant, I rarely get that kind of affirmation years after the fact.

I didn't know him well, but that brief conversation with him in a different context, where I wasn't his teacher but a fellow bicycle commuter, allowed me to see how deep his involvement was in the UCLA community. Everyone in the Bike Shop knew him. And I'm pretty sure that his reach into campus life would have continued had he survived this last weekend.

I wish all who mourn for him the best. He will certainly be missed.

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