Mohamed Magdi Taha, an undergraduate student in Course 6-9 (Computation and Cognition) passed away in August. A native of California and Khartoum, Sudan, the rising junior and New Vassar resident was passionate about social justice issues, had a deep love for his homeland and family, and had a penchant for writing and studying poetry.
Writing on Instagram for members of the MIT Class of 2024, he described himself with wit and humor: “I was born in California, but I’m from Khartoum, Sudan, a country in North Africa with rich Nubian ancestry (we have more pyramids than Egypt js). Last year, as a nation, we overthrew a 30-year dictatorship, so I’m naturally proud of where I come from. 🇸🇩 ❤ Some quick facts about me: my music taste is as diverse as can be and I’m always throwing something around… My favorite sport is soccer (we call it soccer in Sudan) I’m always up for a quick game .”
Taha was truly proud of his background and brought his whole self to campus. “While at MIT, he forged close ties with the Sudanese community in Boston, speaking at rallies for freedom, peace and justice at a time of political and social turmoil in Sudan,” wrote MIT President L. Rafael Reif d letter to the MIT community.
Reem Agil, a graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who knew Tah as a student at the Khartoum International Community School, posted: “I can’t describe how brilliant he was” and said she will miss his steadfast spirit: “I will miss your warm laughter, your unyielding faith that everything will work out in the end, your love for your country, your kindness and respect for others.”
He was also deeply devoted to his family and all remembered his sense of joy and devotion to uplifting everyone he met. His father Magdi says his son “was a deep thinker and loved a good challenge.” He calls him “brave” and “kind” and notes his dedication to helping others in ways big and small. “He didn’t see himself in the equation.” All he saw was how he could help.”
His sister Lina says her brother was “her pillar” and his sister Sarah says he “was such a pure soul” and “had such a big space, wherever he went.” His sister Summer offered her thoughts in song form: “You enlightened us with the infinite light within / and I hope the angels hold you as tight as I do / I hope they shower you with love / A love that I couldn’t give you / Who knew your future / would be as bright as heaven?”
His mother Rihab echoes that sentiment, saying he was “filled with compassion, love and joy” and was “generous” and always eager to share “everything he had: his words, his smile, his laughter.”
On and around campus, Taha made a difference with his classmates, helping with homework and the simple act of choosing the best gifts for others. Classmate Zoe Kulken says she and Taha were kindred spirits. She credits him with getting her through her first few years at MIT. “Some of my favorite moments with Mohammed, believe it or not, were when we were studying the night before an exam” and in his encouragement when a test didn’t go as well as one of them had hoped. “He always knew how to comfort people,” she adds, and to understand what they needed. “Mohammed was such a good gift because he always knew what would make people happy.”
Academically, he was versatile and had a special passion for poetry. Professor Mary Fuller of MIT’s Department of Literature shared a series of emails from Taha in which he asked to enter her full literature class. Although she wouldn’t let him in (since it was too late in the semester), she did provide some mentoring and feedback on the poem he shared, about Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
“Shall I compare you to the starry night / You are more ravishing and more disconnected / Heat and light run into your hands to excite / Sit in their absence, love condemned… The truth is all but known, some languages must confess: / The realm of the moon is only yours to fight.”
Taha said of his poem that it “started as a sonnet, but it was really a bit furious to write. I couldn’t fit all my ideas into 14 lines so I added four more lines to make the overall poem flow better.” Similarly, he led a life that was difficult to contain in a structured, limited form.
Friend and classmate Kulken shares another of his poems, a meditation that beautifully captures his buoyant spirit in his words: “Don’t get me wrong love / I don’t want to live forever / I just want to live in your company / long for you love, like summer in winter / I’ll never get used to you love / Like the leaves insist on dying until autumn, I’ll never get used to you love / I won’t live forever / but I will don’t breathe unless you tell me to.”
At the end of September, the campus hosted a Khatma (prayer), a memorial event and a poetry evening in honor of Taha’s life. A mural dedicated to his life will also be installed on the campus. Tah’s family and close friends created a scholarship to honor his legacy of helping others and building community. The scholarship aims to support students who wish to study STEM and/or the arts in the United States. Anyone can donate to the scholarship fund.