For an anthropology class benefit event, College of Business student Suesann Abdelrasul had carved time out of her jam-packed schedule to arrange for food and drink donations, including one from a Corvallis bakery.
But there’d been a mixup as to when she was supposed to retrieve the pastries.
And she didn’t become aware of that until 30 minutes before she was supposed to make the 9 p.m., closing-time pickup. Making matters worse, Suesann was at home in Salem when she got the news.
But luckily one of her school-mates saved the day: her son Majed, also a business student at Oregon State, who hustled toward the downtown bakery 22 blocks away – on his longboard.
“My brother was out of town and he had the car,” Majed recalled. “So I just got down there as fast as I could.”
Majed made it in time. Then the former McKay High School football and basketball standout picked up the parcel, the size of a mini-fridge, hopped back on the board and made his way home.
“She’s always got a lot of stuff going on,” Majed said, noting how Suesann works in delivery route management for the Salem Statesman Journal as well as takes care of his younger sister and 88-year-old, developmentally disabled grandmother.
“I like being her go-to person if she has problems – it’s hard to focus on school when you have all the other side distractions. Anything I can do to help her, I’m going to do.”
This June, Majed can do something for his mother that a decade ago would have been hard to fathom: Congratulate her on the completion of a bachelor’s degree.
Born in 1962, Suesann grew up as the second youngest of four children born to parents separated in age by a generation – when they wed, Suesann’s mother was 18, her father 42.
The family lived on a rented farm 10 miles west of Salem. It was a somewhat isolated existence in which education wasn’t stressed – partly because Suesann’s mother, Betty Burke, was prevented by her disability from learning to read.“
My parents didn’t talk about college; our road was to marry early and live our lives,” said Suesann.
Her father died of cancer when she was 14, and with her older sister and brother having started their own marriages, it fell upon Suesann to take care of her younger sister and their mother. They moved into town, where Suesann tried both to attend South Salem High School and hold three jobs.
It proved too much.
“I was working at an A&W till 11, and I kept missing school,” she said. “I kept oversleeping and waking up too late. The school finally told me that I had to have my parents come in and sign this form or I’d be expelled. I didn’t have anyone who could get there or sign anything, and so I wondered what would happen if I just didn’t go back. I didn’t know what else to do, so that’s what I did; I guess I expelled myself.”
Suesann became a teen mother, and then she and the baby’s father had a second daughter before their relation-ship ended with his death from a heart attack at age 28.
She ended up working as a waitress at Denny’s, where she made some Muslim friends, which led to her conversion to Islam. The restaurant is also where she met her husband, Hasan, a Palestinian entrepreneur.
In 1998, when Majed, the third youngest of the six kids Suesann and Hasan have together, was 6, the family moved to the West Bank so the children could learn Hasan’s culture. They settled in the village of Deir Jrir near the city of Ramallah.
“When we first arrived it was wonderful,” Suesann said. “Everything was very peaceful. The second year, we started to see some turmoil.”
Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, began in September 2000. A year later came 9/1l.
“It was very difficult there,” Suesann said. “We were under curfew 24 hours a day. We decided to come back to the States.”
Majed had quickly picked up Arabic but mainly lost his English skills and was considered an ESL student – English as a second language – for nearly four years, until his freshman year at Salem’s McKay High.
Nevertheless, he excelled in the classroom and charted a course for Oregon State.
Meanwhile, Suesann began thinking about her education too. With the number of children in the household shrinking, she filled out a financial aid application – though at the time, she didn’t even have a GED.
She cleared that first hurdle simply by passing the exam but still needed remedial math classes when she started at Chemeketa Community College in Salem. At Chemeketa, Suesann not only earned an associate degree but fulfilled the calculus prerequisite for admission to the College of Business – though she was initially reluctant to enroll at Oregon State, where both Majed and his younger brother, Amjad, would be schoolmates.
“I didn’t think they’d want their mom there with them,” she said, “but when they heard what I was thinking about doing, they said, ‘You’re not going to any other school, you’re going to OSU.”
In addition to Suesann and Majed, who’ll graduate in June with degrees in management and finance, respectively, two of Majed’s older siblings are finishing college this year – Amanda, who’s wrapping up a human resources degree from the University of Phoenix, and Nasser, who’s completing his business degree at Puget Sound – and a niece, Elena, will graduate from McKay High.
“We just want to change and enrich our lives,” said Majed, who serves as president of OSU’s Finance Club and is a member of the Dean’s Student Leadership Council and the Oregon State Investment Group. “It’s a long-term goal, one step at a time.”
For Suesann, it’s a universe away from life on the farm.
“I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to pursue my dreams,” said Suesann, who ultimately would like to start a nonprofit to help other women from difficult backgrounds pursue their dreams, too. “I was a victim, and now I’m on track. I knew I had more to offer, and my kids encouraged me to achieve my goals.”
This article originally appeared in the 2015 edition of The Exchange, published by the College of Business.