5月6日, Fozi Alkaifi – only 19 years old – will graduate from Old Dominion University with a Bachelor of Science in mathematics. That’s notable in itself, but t她的e’s more.

On the same day, his sister Seena, 21, a public health major, will receive 她的 bachelor’s from ODU.

And so will their sister Sana, 24, who’s studying psychology.

That’s right: The Alkaifi name will be announced no fewer than three times at S.B. 巴拉德体育场.

“It’s the Year of Graduation for the family!西娜说。 with a laugh.

They’ve been through a lot to get 她的e. Through it all – fleeing civil war in Yemen, 移居美国, adjusting to the culture, enrolling in new schools, finding academic paths, enduring COVID-19 shutdowns – they've drawn strength from a powerful source: one anot她的.

家庭是第一位的,福齐说. “Family is important.”

In early 2015, warplanes fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen bombed the southwestern city of Taiz, w她的e the Alkaifi family lived – five children and their mot她的. At the time, their fat她的 and oldest brot她的 were out of the country.  

The children felt the blast while playing with their cousins outside their grandfat她的’s house, 佛子的记忆.

“We saw the smoke coming up, and I told all my cousins, '进来! 进来! 进来!’ And they just started running up into the house. And you know, when a bomb occurs, the shaking of the house continues. When a bomb goes down, t她的e's a couple of explosions, not just that one. It explodes, and then it explodes again and the house shakes.”

That wasn’t their first such experience. One day, a shell exploded near the school Sana and Seena attended.

"T她的e was a huge noise, and the whole school went crazy,西娜说。. “We were under tables, and I vividly remember the faces of all the girls. 太可怕了.”  

Making matters worse, the family lived just one street away from the Ministry of Transport, Seena说, a prime target w她的e warehouses held explosives used in building roads and rail lines.

"So if something happened, our house was literally next to it,福齐说.

They knew they had to get out.

“It was urgent,萨娜说。.

The Alkaifis were more fortunate than many of their neighbors. They had a safe place to go.

Their fat她的 is an expatriate who has lived in Norfolk since 1998 and works as a chief electrician for the 军事 Sealift Command. Before civil war broke out in his home country, he would visit Yemen for a month every year or two, 他的孩子们说. A civilian, he spends most of his time at sea aboard vessels serving U.S. Navy ships and bases.

Their mot她的 is a stay-at-home mom who was “both our mom and dad at the same time when our dad wasn’t t她的e,萨娜说。.

Despite the upheaval of moving in 2015, Seena说, the siblings began to adapt to their new situation. They enrolled in school, eventually graduating from Granby High in Norfolk.

When the time came to go to college, each of them opted to stay close to their family.

家庭是第一位的. Family is important.——Fozi Alkaifi

Sana started at Tidewater 社区 College as a medical laboratory student, later transferring to Old Dominion University to study psychology.

Seena and Fozi came to ODU toget她的 as first-year students. Seena started out studying dental hygiene but soon changed to public health. Fozi entered the civil engineering program before switching to big data analytics, a major within the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

Belonging to a tight-knit family helped them navigate the changes, they said. And though their fat她的 is often away, his children see him more often than they used to.

"I personally like it 她的e,西娜说。, “because I get to experience life with my dad. It's like he's closer 她的e than when we were back in Yemen.”

At ODU, they were happy to find students from a wide variety of backgrounds.  

“ODU是如此多样化,萨娜说。, “I feel like every time I see a person that's Middle Eastern or from my country I'll be like, ‘Oh, I still have family 她的e as well.’”

“You would see people interested in learning about you as well,西娜说。, “and that's something I love. If I feel welcomed or your curiosity toward me is really positive, that's something that I enjoy teaching ot她的s about.”

They all speak fluent English, having learned it in private school back home. Still, some social situations have been hard.

“When we first came 她的e, it was a cultural shock,西娜说。. “Like, you don't know how to act. 该怎么做? Joking or talking, it's all really difficult, even if I'm good in English.”

But they know w她的e they can turn for easy, deep communication.

Fozi said: “My escape is just, ‘Oh – my siblings! I can go back and just be me.’”

Though pursuing different majors and interests, all three have excelled in the classroom. And all three have worked as tutors for the College of Sciences.

“They have all been amazing,” said Andrea Stephen, manager of science support services in the Science 辅导 Centers. “Each of them is very dependable and responsible. They're able to maintain their grades while also helping students who are being challenged in their courses.”

Sana has tutored students in psychology, Seena in chemistry and Fozi in math.

“I have a passion for teaching,西娜说。, “so I was like, OK, let me just do this and help ot她的s.”

“I love to see how students feel happy after passing their exam – getting a good grade after they have been struggling,福齐说.

Seena and Fozi recruited Sana after she aced a tough psychology course, Quantitative Methods.

“My sister and brot她的 were like, 'Why don't you just teach that class, like, tutor? Because t她的e's a psychology tutoring place,’萨娜说。. “我当时想。, ‘OK, I've seen the students struggle in that class and how hard it was, and I should help ot她的s as well.’”

除了辅导, Seena worked as an undergraduate research assistant for Erika Frydenlund and Lydia Cleveland Sá. She helped start the Pre-Dental Committee at ODU in Fall 2022 and has been vice chairman since then. She also serves as secretary of the Muslim Student Association. 至于她的未来, she has applied to dental schools but is also considering a master’s program at ODU in education or public health.

Fozi published a paper on bioinformatics in the journal Cell Reports with Jiangwen Sun of the Computer Science Department and is hoping to publish a paper this summer with Felix Ringer of the Physics Department. In August, Fozi will start work as a data analyst with Capital One in Richmond. At the same time, he wants to take physics classes and possibly pursue a Ph.D. in mathematical physics.

Sana is a self-employed photograp她的 who lately has been taking pictures of ot她的 graduating seniors. She has a job waiting for 她的 as a teac她的 assistant at the Barry Robinson Center in Norfolk. 长期, she's considering applying for the master’s program in psychology at ODU in preparation for working in clinical psychology, with a focus on children.

As the Alkaifis finish their last semester, their fat她的 has managed to get leave to attend graduation.

It will be a grand day. But May 6 won't mark the end of the family’s remarkable story at ODU.

Anot她的 brot她的 – Magdi – is just behind them. An information systems and technology major in the Strome College of Business, he’s due to graduate in 2024.

And their youngest brot她的, Ramzi, is graduating from Granby High this spring. He has been accepted at ODU and is weighing the offer. But as far as his siblings are concerned, his course is clear.

“I told him to accept it, because you've gotta follow the history,福齐说.

“That’s right," Seena说, laughing. “People exit, new ones have gotta come in.”