When things you hold dear are taken away, it’s easy to become bitter and secluded.
For Kassim and Sorkel Alkhatib, it wasn’t things taken away.
It was worse.
It was two sons — suddenly gone.
In the spring of 2012, Weesam and Shwan Alkhatib, both engineering graduates from K-State, passed away within a month of each other.
Shwan, 25 years old and a 2009 grad, was found dead in a hotel in New York on March 2 — during a visit to care for Weesam, who was away from the hotel while undergoing treatment for a rare form of cancer.
Shwan died of natural causes, according to New York City police reports, but the Alkhatibs declined to allow an autopsy for religious reasons.
Weesam, a clinical instructor of surgery at Stanford University, died from the cancer just a few weeks later at age 34.
Without question, much was taken from the Alkhatibs — who immigrated from Iraq and were residents of Manhattan for more than 30 years before moving to California two years ago.
But bitterness and seclusion wasn’t their response to these terrible events. Instead, the Alkhatibs (including daughters Aveen and Cheen) raised money, much of it from their own pockets, to upgrade Durland Hall’s computer lab in honor of the two lost brothers.
The improved lab boasts 32 new computers, three new printers, new chairs and new tables. It was officially dedicated in September.
“(Choosing to upgrade) the computer lab was an easy choice,” Aveen said.
“Since three of us completed degrees in engineering at KSU, and two of us — myself and Weesam — both studied chemical engineering, we knew this would be a wonderful project.
“It would help so many students, year after year, and teach them to be kind to each other. That’s what Shwan and Weesam wanted — (for people) to be kind to each other and to help as much as you can.”
Aveen also said that the family thought renovating the lab, which had roughly two-thirds the amount of computers and equipment before the upgrades, would be better to help the entire student body — rather than a scholarship assisting just one individual.
Aveen, who is continuing her education in Canada and responded via email, said engineering has always been a passion in her family.
“I am guessing some of (the passion) is rooted in the immigrant mentality,” she said. “My parents always wanted us to have degrees we could fall back on. They knew careers in engineering and medicine would help to support us in life.
“Weesam, being the oldest, set the bar for all of us — and he set the bar really high. We all aspired to be like him, since we loved and respected him so much. “(But) as much as my parents instilled the importance of education, they pushed the importance of family even more. We did everything together and it was beautiful.”
The computers in the lab contain many of the bells and whistles an undergraduate engineering student might need, including software known as “Aspen.”
Andrew Woolley, a senior in chemical engineering, said the program is crucial to engineering students but too expensive for most individuals. The new lab has been a blessing, he said.
“It’s so much better,” Woolley said this week. “There’s more room and the computers are much faster and everything is cleaner.”
Larry Glasgow, a professor of chemical engineering who taught Weesam and Aveen during their time at K-State, said the new lab has been beneficial to the department.
“It was pretty rough,” he said. “It was functional, but not nearly as nice (as it is now).”
Glasgow said he wasn’t surprised a lab renovation was the method the family chose to honor Waseem and Shwan.
“They’re a terrific family, and they place a very high value on education,” Glasgow said.
Both brothers were avid K-State sports fans, as well.
Shwan, who was well known on Wildcats message boards as “fatty4ksu,” is quoted on the wall of the computer lab. His message: “So good people can be happy. Just for a day. Because good people deserve good things, even just for a day.”
Aveen said Shwan was heard saying that about K-State sports.
“He was referring to a K-State football game or basketball game and talking about why we should win,” she said.
“He and Weesam were avid K-State fans and loved the university and its people very much.”