Texas Exes Create Endowment for Middle Eastern Students in Honor of Late Father
- Nov 17, 2022
- Alex Briseño
Shortly after the passing of their late father, Texas Exes Anisa Alhilali and Kera Fonseca, and their sisters, Yasemi Oxley and Lea Alhilali, knew they wanted to pay homage to him in a unique way.
For this family of ambassadors for global education, the obvious choice revolved around a shared educational philosophy stemming from their father, Khalid Abdul Mehdi “Al” Alhilali.
Khalid excelled in school from an early age in Baghdad. After attending Imperial College in London on a full-ride scholarship, he moved to the United States for graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Though he arrived in the U.S. with very little, Khalid knew education was the key to building a new life in a new country, and that was one asset he did have. He spent much of his adult life passing down that key life lesson through generations of his family, including to his daughters Anisa, Yasemi, Lea and Kera, who have collectively earned several degrees.
Kera and Anisa each earned two degrees from The University of Texas at Austin: Kera left the Forty Acres with a degree in economics honors and another in finance, while Anisa earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting.
“Our dad was also able to help two cousins of mine, who grew up mostly in Saudi Arabia, to come to the U.S. for college,” Anisa said. “He was almost like their dad while they were here going to school. I also see how well they've done, thanks to that support.”
She added, “My dad felt that if he could help people come to the U.S. and get an education, as he did for his kids and nephews, that doors would open for them.”
That’s why, when the sisters sat together after their father's memorial in February 2022, Anisa pitched the idea of establishing the Khalid Alhilali Memorial Scholarship, a Texas Global endowment for Middle Eastern students at UT Austin. They wanted to support upcoming generations, just as their father had done for them.
“My sisters and I wanted to do something to honor my dad's memory,” Anisa said. “Because he was so big on education, when we came up with this idea of the scholarship, everybody just said, ‘This feels right.’ ”
Continuing a Legacy
As each of the sisters learned, the process of creating the Khalid Alhilali Memorial Scholarship was a cathartic one, providing the family with moments of positivity amid their grief.
“It’s been a way to find something positive in the loss of my father,” Lea said. “I feel that it’s a way to carry his legacy and keep a part of him with us. He will continue to touch the lives of other people, the way he touched all of ours. My dad was incredibly selfless and was always giving to others. That legacy of continuing to give to others really keeps alive his spirit.”
This endowment doesn’t just symbolize their father’s continued legacy, it also builds upon it: By welcoming and supporting new generations of Middle Eastern students who will make a major transition to the U.S. just as Khalid did, the sisters are adding new branches to the educational roots their father planted decades ago.
“We feel like it was just meant to be. It’s an extension of what he was already doing,” Yasemi said. “What I really hope for is that the students will know that someone believes in them, knows that they can succeed, and that this will give them that little extra push to pursue their dreams. That was the biggest thing that my dad did for us: He believed in all of us, and he believed anything was possible.”
Investing in Texas
Although Khalid graduated from UCLA, he gladly put those allegiances aside to become a Texas Longhorn fan once Anisa and Kera arrived at the Forty Acres.
“He even stopped watching UCLA games, and Texas became his college team,” Anisa said. “We got him Texas gear and everything! He was very happy that Kera and I graduated from The University of Texas.”
That affinity played a role in the sisters’ decision to establish the endowment with Texas Global at UT Austin. But one of the main selling points for them is getting the chance to attend a Texas Global reception that acknowledges and celebrates the endowment recipients.
“I really like the idea of the scholarship dinner, where we can meet recipients,” Anisa said. “If you can’t attend, they have other ways to meet the recipients, but it’s important to me that I be there. I’m sure I’ll get emotional when I meet them. It’s just such a special thing.”
For Anisa, this isn’t the only way she is staying connected with UT Austin.
As a lifetime member of the Texas Exes, she is part of one of the largest alumni organizations in the world. With 530,000 alumni living in 176 countries around the world, plus more than 150 Texas Exes chapters and affinity networks across the globe, Anisa is just one of the thousands of Texas Exes who has found a Longhorn community in the world.
“If a student from the Middle East went to UT Austin and wanted to return to the Middle East, they could maintain that connection through the Texas Exes,” Anisa said.
The 18 international chapters include two in the Middle East: one in the United Arab Emirates and another in Jordan. But there is also the option of starting a new chapter, which is exactly what Anisa did in Phoenix. She also joined the New York City chapter before moving to the United Kingdom, where she has also connected with the Texas Exes chapter in London.
Leaving a Lasting Impact
As they all look forward to welcoming scholarship recipients, the sisters offered future students some important advice: Embrace the challenge and always give to others.
“You may not always see the rewards immediately, but all that you give comes back to you in ways you cannot imagine,” Lea said. “You, too, can lay the roots for continued success, not just for yourself, but generations after you. Your success is a beacon for others like you.”
As emotional as this year has been for them, each of the sisters finds solace in knowing how much this endowment—and its exponential impact—would mean to their father.
“He came to the U.S. with so little, but he never gave up, and he held on to the belief that anything is possible,” Yasemi said. “He knew education made it possible for him to achieve his dream. The impact will be so far-reaching, and I know that would make him so happy.”
If you have been inspired by this story, you can make a contribution to the Khalid Alhilali Memorial Scholarship.