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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

After tragedy, campus continues to look for answers

Published: September 14, 2012
Section: Featured, News

Nearly two weeks after Akshay Venkatesh took his own life on campus, just days after classes began, his professors, friends and family said they are still questioning what went wrong with such a passionate and intelligent student, returning to school for his junior year.
“I don’t know who reached out to him and who didn’t, but I never considered the possibility that he was pre-suicidal,” Professor Don Katz (PSYCH) said. Katz’s sentiments were echoed by others on campus. Katz was disappointed that despite his expertise, he failed to diagnose Venkatesh at the time.  He was not purposefully removed from society, Katz said. “He took it on himself to try to get to know me,” he said in an interview with The Hoot. Katz did not consider himself a mentor, but because his class was one of the first that Venkatesh took in the neuroscience and biology fields, Katz believes Venkatesh was committed to doing well, having decided early in life that he was going to pursue a career in the fields. Venkatesh pushed himself to be active in class, and sought out Katz during office hours in the semester he was his student. They kept in contact briefly after the class ended, but the communication fell through during the summer.  Venkatesh was already set on a major in science, despite having only begun his courses in biology when he took Katz’s course. “Like many Brandeis students,” Katz said, “he made the decision to do science before he could find out what he was good at.”  According to friends, Venkatesh was both driven and gifted in his chosen field. “I’ve met very few people as passionate as he was about what he was studying,” Isaac Rabbani ’13 said,  who lived on Venkatesh’s floor in previous years, “and with the intellect to match.” Katz said he is still searching for answers.
“I keep using the present tense,” he said. The final few posts on Venkatesh’s Facebook page include a status that says how excited he was to return to Brandeis. “I wonder what transpired on that plane,” Katz said, referring to the plane flight on which Venkatesh returned from his summer research internship in Singapore. “That flight from Singapore is a long flight and I wondered what went through his head then.”
His parents say that he also had a philosopher’s mind, instead of neuroscience.
“You came into this world without anyone’s knowledge, and you slipped away without telling anyone,” Venkatesh’s family said in a statement to The Hoot. “My friend philosopher and guide, you should have taken philosophy as a major instead of neuroscience. We laughed and cried and made fun of the world together.  Whatever the world may think, mummy knows you were the bravest, funniest and smartest human being around.”