The Philly Post
May 30, 2012
My freshman year calculus class had about 500 people in it, and we attended our lectures in a large auditorium three times a week. It’s been more than 25 years, and I don’t remember the professor who did these lectures, but I definitely remember his teaching assistant. His name was Samir Khabbaz. He conducted his sessions on the other two days a week when lectures weren’t given. Like all of the mostly foreign born teaching assistants the university employed, Khabbaz was a graduate student. And, unlike most teaching assistants, students flocked to his early morning sessions.
Was he brilliant? Of course—aren’t all those guys? Was it because he was a good teacher? Not really. He was kind of hard to understand. But there was a big reason why his classes were so popular. Khabbaz has this amazing talent: He could write on the board with both hands … simultaneously. Like a magician, he would stand with his back to us and weave a tapestry of functions, derivatives and linear operators, furiously writing and jabbering at the same time, while his hands would work together in perfect harmony, one finishing a calculation for the other. It was an amazing sight to watch. Of course, Khabbaz was unaware of his campus fame.
And yet, when the extraordinary Khabbaz finished his graduate degree at my university he was forced to return home to his native Afghanistan, where I’m sure he works his magic today. Because of our country’s silly immigration laws, we lost a great, great man.