The Halabu family poses for a photo in the Oakland University Honors College common room

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icon of a calendarJune 13, 2018

icon of a pencilBy Jacquelyn Goetz Bluethmann

Family Ties

The Halabus are a family of Oakland University graduates

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Josh Scott

Shamil (CAS ’81) and Laura, (CAS ’81) Halabu’s children: Peter (CAS ’07), Paul (CAS ’09), Nathan (CAS ’11) and Liz (CAS ’12) each fondly remember their time at Oakland University. But they also acknowledge that they’re only the latest generation in a family that has taken advantage of OU’s education for the past four decades.

Shamil immigrated from Iraq with his family in 1977. The youngest of eight, he followed in his siblings’ footsteps to college, but found a unique experience at OU. “I enjoyed the small class sizes at Oakland,” Shamil recalls. “My professors were very available and willing to help.”

Initially he planned to be a dentist. “Halfway through, I changed my mind,” says Shamil, who instead graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. “I decided I wanted to pursue law.”

That wasn’t the only thing he pursued. In his sophomore year, Shamil met his future wife, Laura (Mazurkiewicz), during a ping-pong game on the lower level of the Oakland Center.

“For a short while, I had her believing I was a professor at the University,” he remembers with a smile.

“Two generations of Oakland University success stories (and counting).”

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Josh Scott

Laura’s parents were first-generation Polish-Americans. Her father played the organ and worked as a treasurer for a local Catholic church. “His progress was limited in his profession because of education,” she explains. “So he laid the foundation in our family that education was first and foremost.”

Laura and her brothers — Michael (CAS ’79), Martin (SHS ’89), Matthew and Steven (SECS ’91,’08) —all went to OU. Together, they were the first generation of college students in their extended family. “Anything is possible when you have your degree,” Laura remembers her father telling her.

Despite differences in language, culture and curriculum, Laura hit it off with Shamil immediately. “We connected intellectually, but we also connected over the similarities and differences between our families,” she explains. They graduated together in 1981, and, as soon as Shamil got his law degree from the Detroit College of Law, they were wed. Shamil then began a decadeslong legal career, and the couple got started on their own family of five children.

And, of course, when their children reached adulthood, Oakland was their first choice for a quality college education. “My parents were of the mindset: why should they send any of us far away to school when we could get an A+ education in our own backyard,” says Liz. But Nathan has his own theory: “It was a predetermined path for all of us to attend OU after Peter did,” he says, laughing.

Peter, the eldest, received a full scholarship from OU and graduated from The Honors College in three years. After getting his bachelor’s in 2007, along with a Wilson Award, he headed to Harvard Law School — the first student in OU history to do so — and joined the family law practice. Paul, the next oldest, got a B.A. in physics, also graduated from The Honors College, and now runs a dental equipment business. Nathan studied communication at Oakland, got a master’s in advertising from Michigan State University, and now works for a digital marketing agency in the Chicago area. Liz also graduated in three years from The Honors College and received her law degree from Wayne State University in 2015. She now runs two title agencies in the Detroit area, and has just received OU’s Young Alumni Ten within Ten Award. Christopher, the youngest sibling, attends college near the family’s current home and is majoring in chemistry like his dad.

Liz credits their time at Oakland as being both a formative period in their lives and a stepping stone to their success. “At Oakland, I was encouraged to think critically and to have my own opinion,” Liz explains. “It was an open and nonjudgmental environment in which to learn. For me, the experience was about opening my mind and letting new ideas and opinions in.”

Now the Halabu siblings are giving back to Oakland by funding a $25,000 endowment in their parents’ name. The endowment, available to students in The Honors College, will help today’s generation achieve the same quality education that has been a cornerstone of the Halabu family’s success.

“Dad always told us that college was not a place to play socially and occasionally go to class. In his eyes, this combination of school and work was the next piece of us becoming an adult,” Nathan recalls. “An endowment is the best tribute we can give our parents,” he adds, recognizing that the siblings’ time at Oakland was “a tremendous gift.”

For the Halabu siblings, their endowment is just the logical next step in a family relationship with Oakland that has continued and evolved over generations.

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