Bridges, Cranes, and the Pathway to Happiness
Rezaiyeh, Iran,1979. My grandfather was a Colonel in the army loyal to the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who had ruled Iran for three decades. The Shah supported religious minorities, including members of the Bahá'í Faith. Those protections crumbled as the Shah was challenged by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Chants of “Death to the Shah” and “Death to America” rang through the streets. On the morning of February 17, 1979, my grandfather stood outside his home waiting for his military escort. Instead, he was greeted by two extremists on motorcycles. They opened fire, riddling my grandfather with eight bullets. Within hours, my grandmother packed up a single suitcase and fled their family home with my mother, who was thirteen years old, and her baby sister, who was three. Amazingly, my grandfather, who was airlifted to a hospital, survived.
Through asylum, my mother’s family was given refuge in America. She met my father – also of the Bahá'í Faith – at a social gathering in downtown Los Angeles. A central tenant of our faith is honoring the equality of all human beings, including both men and women, and including all other happenstances of birth. These values – embodying the unity of humanity – were instilled in me as a child. In Sunday school, we’d raise our voices in song reflecting that we were all “drops of one ocean.” And that we were “building bridges out of the walls that keep us apart.
9/11. In the wake of the terror attacks, my identity was often questioned through bullying. My family was living in the suburbs of Orange County, where everyone was supposed to blend. Rocks were thrown at me during recess break, bananas were smeared over junior high locker, and in high school I was once even asked “Is that a bomb in your backpack?” The label “terrorist,” among other names, became a familiar taunt. But my family’s values carried me through. While I was taught to be kind, I was also taught to stand up against oppression, whether it be against myself or others. You can’t let the negativity of others define you or impact who you are. If you do, they win. Every taunt motivated me to do better and achieve more.
When I began Loyola Law School, I moved to downtown Los Angeles, to the same neighborhood where my parents have been operating their own business for over 30 years. I revel in the diversity. I live in a true “melting pot” that embraces differences and shuns one-dimensionality. We co-exist with the person next to us without judging.
Cranes. I’m not talking about the graceful birds that bed by the sea. But the massive machinery that dominates the Los Angeles skyline. When my graduating class of 2017 began law school, the Wilshire-Grand Center was nothing more than a foundation. As we progressed, so did that building. Now, it is billed as the tallest structure west of the Mississippi. A visual metaphor. We watched it grow; just as we grew. Law school taught us law; but it also taught us how to search for our identity. And to keep searching and building. The adrenaline of the future. By staying cognizant of our surroundings, we can constantly better ourselves and continually evolve.
As an attorney, I hope to make a difference in this world. I’ve clerked at Girardi Keese, a prominent law firm in Los Angeles. Tom Girardi – a Loyola grad – is the managing partner. He’s also a role model. While he’s nationally known and made millions for his clients, he’s also humble. It’s not just about money. As he taught me and I also learned in my Loyola trial advocacy classes, representation entails more than filing briefs and examining witnesses. It means seeing the humanity in your clients. It means caring and fighting for an interest other than your own. Kindness isn’t weakness; kindness is strength. That touches upon another lesson learned as a child. Service. The pathway to happiness is doing something for someone else.
Let’s be happy. Let’s rejoice in our identities. And love each other.
We’re all we’ve got.