A first-year undergraduate known for his ability to lift others’ spirits died Saturday after the car he was driving collided with a semi-truck in northeast Cleveland.
Mohammad Jamal, 18, had dreamed of someday becoming a doctor who demonstrated deep empathy and profound dedication with patients. Even in his brief time on campus, Jamal’s kindness and humor already had impressed and inspired classmates—who, in turn, quickly became friends.
“Mohammad was genuinely happy, and that rubbed off on people when he was around them,” said Oluchi Onyeukwu, a first-year student who also attended high school with Mohammad. “You couldn’t help but be happy when he was around; it was like he made the pain go away temporarily. And he had the most beautiful smile.”
Hundreds of people—including Onyeukwu and other Case Western Reserve peers—gathered Sunday at the Islamic Center of Cleveland for services to remember Mohammad, the younger son of Mona and Jamal Jamal and sibling to three younger sisters and an older brother, Suhib, a second-year student at Case Western Reserve.
“From grown men to young children, I saw them all cry,” said the Islamic Center’s president, Akrum Jamal, also a cousin of Mohammad. “I’ve been to a lot of funerals, but I’ve never seen so many people so moved.”
Because the accident and service happened while the university was on fall break, Case Western Reserve officials are speaking with his family regarding how best to memorialize Jamal after his classmates and professors return to campus. The university will provide updates regarding any plans in subsequent editions of the daily. University Counseling Services has walk-in appointments during weekday business hours, and students also may call 216.368.5872 after hours for assistance.
A devoted member of the Islamic Center of Cleveland, Jamal always was the first to step up to help with anything at the mosque, from parking and cleaning to providing spiritual guidance, his cousin Akrum Jamal remembered.
He came to Case Western Reserve after graduating from the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine on the John Hay Campus. While there, he was captain of the soccer team, sergeant at arms of National Honor Society and a member of the Health Profession Pipeline Program.
Once admitted to the university, Jamal was the first student to apply to be part of its Emerging Scholars Program, a six-week summer initiative designed to help students improve their academic skills and engage them early with professors, advisers and mentors. Jamal told program administrators he wanted to surround himself with people who shared his academic goals.
When Jamal entered the program, “he did just that,” program coordinator Arthur Evenchik said. He met new friends and reconnected with past classmates from the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine.
“Mohammad was a quiet young man who didn’t want people to go to any trouble for him,” Evenchik said. “But his friends all knew that he would have gone to a great deal of trouble for them.”
Two high school friends noted that they became closer with Jamal during the summer program than in the previous four years.
“We had all of our classes together and sat next to each other almost every day. I would keep him focused,” Onyeukwu said, “and he would harp on me about how I needed to loosen up more.”
Onyeukwu also remembered playing and watching summer pick-up basketball games with Jamal at the Veale Convocation, Recreation and Athletic Center. Nichola Bomani, another high school friend and fellow Emerging Scholar, also saw him play regularly at the Islamic Center. He always was careful to share the court with young children who vied for a shot and who looked up to Jamal.
“As funny as it sounds, I think some of my favorite memories were from unsuccessfully defending Mo whenever we played pickup games of basketball or soccer,” Bomani said. “He was so fast; I did not stand a chance. But no matter how many times I tripped… he would always motivate me to keep trying.”
Thom Dawkins, a doctoral candidate in the English department and Emerging Scholars writing instructor, saw Jamal’s confidence and skills improve throughout the summer.
Shy and reserved at the outset, Jamal’s “sly smirk” and quiet quips quickly gave way to full-fledged jokes and laughter, Dawkins said.
After the summer program ended, Dawkins saw Jamal a few more times.
“Every time, he was laughing and joking with a different set of students,” Dawkins said. “He was just that kind of guy, and he was my favorite kind of student: thoughtful, kind, hilarious, and just beginning to discover the depth of his own personality and intellect.”
Once the fall semester began, Jamal immersed himself in campus life. He served as the first-year representative for the Muslim Student Association, was an active member of the Middle Eastern Cultural Association and led his intramural soccer team.
“Mohammad was the funniest person I have ever met in my life, hands down. No matter how low your mood was, Mo could come up with something to make you laugh,” Bomani said. “I think that’s why losing him is so hard. We’re all waiting for him to come crack a joke, but he isn’t here to do so.”