It was a snowy day of November in Tehran that my father had just walked in to our house after a long trip to the western part of the country. While he was shaking the snow from his boots, my grandmother announced my birth to him. I was the ninth of twelve children.
As such, The highest priority in my family was education. We have all achieved high degrees in our studies. My family was prominent, resourceful, and proud of their Persian heritage and culture. We were also committed to improving the lives of the people we encountered throughout our lifetime. Even our house workers were encouraged to attend night classes after work. My father, a pioneer of democratic government in Iran, was the sole income provider for my family; my mother, a Parsi educator, conducted our lives with great efficiency, organization, uniformity, sacrifice, and a sense of justice that has influenced all of us through our lives.
Following high school, I successfully passed the entrance examination to Tehran University. Students who received the top scores on the test could study medicine or any other major of their choice. Because of my sensitivity to other people’s pain and suffering, I shifted my focus to natural product research. At this time, my family had moved to Esfahan. As a result, I transferred from Tehran University to Esfahan University, where I graduated with honors with a Doctorate degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences.
My life-long dream for the future was to become a professor at Tehran University. When I applied, I was told that due to frequent conferences and interaction with foreign professors, the position requires proficiency in a foreign language, preferably English, and a degree with some experience from outside of the country.
To fulfill this requirement, I applied to American universities through the organization American Friends of Middle East. I was accepted to SUNY/Binghamton’s Chemistry Department, where I received my Doctorate degree in Organic Chemistry. Immediately after graduation, we returned home to Iran, and I reapplied for a job at Tehran University. This time, the same professor told me that the political climate in Iran was growing unstable and that my best bet was to go back to the United States and pursue my teaching goals there.
A few months after we returned to the United States, a revolution broke out in Iran. It was a challenging time to look for a job in the U.S. The Iranian Revolution, the Hostage Crisis, my two doctorate degrees, and the lack of scholarly positions in South Jersey, where we lived, resulted in a lack of opportunities, pleasantly justified by one word: ‘overqualified.’ Even high schools would not dare to hire an Iranian.
I eventually found a job in the industry as the Director of Safety and Manager of Method Development in a leading pharmaceutical company. Though I was very successful and appreciated within the company, my desire to teach remained unsatisfied. After five years, I resigned from my position, and, using the skills that I learned throughout my life as a scientist, I established several organizations and businesses which continue to be successful today.
The ability and desire to teach runs in the family. During the Ghaajaar era, when illiteracy, especially among women, was the highest in history, my father’s mother was of the five women in Iran who were able to read and write Parsi. My grandmother also taught Parsi in Shah’s court. My mother taught Parsi in school. My parents had an uplifting and generous nature. They were always quietly assisting worthy students with their college tuition. My parents were my inspiration for forming the Houtan Foundation, which was established in 1999.
The history of Persia is a wondrous one, rich with great accomplishments, leadership, and culture. The Houtan Scholarship Foundation aims to foster the continued scholarship of Persian history, culture, civilization, and language.
As more scholarships are developed for students studying Persian history, culture, civilization, and language, there will be an increase in demand for learning about Iran. Consequently, there will be more exposure to our ancient culture and civilization. When we were at the peak of our great history, the first issue of human rights was written by Cyrus the Great over 2500 years ago, at that time the rest of the world was in comparative darkness. Persia gradually began to decline and other portions of the world started climbing the progressive pathway. Now, it is our duty to carry the torch of Cyrus the Great. The value of Iran and Iranians is being challenged by people who have no knowledge of us. We should win this battle by educating all people. Alone we cannot win, but together we will.
Years ago, “Persia” or “Iran,” “Persian” or “Iranian” were not discussed in the public media of the United States. Only a small portion of the population knew about some of the products from Iran, such as oil, Persian carpets, Persian caviar or Persian cats. Starting 30 years ago, with the 2500 anniversary celebration of monarchy in Iran, a window opened for people to see Iran and Iranians. Shortly thereafter, the Iranian Revolution opened another window for people to know Iran and Iranians. In my opinion, none of those windows realistically show what we were, what we are, and what we would like to be. First, we have to introduce ourselves to the world in full spectrum through education. It will not happen overnight, but surely we will get there, and eventually, our future generations will enjoy the outcome.
Having lived in Iran as a child and as a young woman and in the USA for most of my life as an Iranian-American, I think I have a strong perspective on both nations. I have to say, there are several keen similarities between Iran and America.
In the past, the Persian Empire was the center of science, technology, astronomy, trade, etc., and was considered a superpower. Today, the United States is a superpower. Having once been a superpower, Iran could easily relate to the United States and its hopes and dreams for the future. The history of Iran had been formed by the same hopes and dreams.
In an interview with the state department, when I was asked what is your message for students in general, I said “The world would be better if youngsters would listen to older individuals with experience and knowledge.” Those who use fighting and killing in order to achieve their goals can affect our youth, like students, very effectively and very negatively. I would like to tell the students: Do not let anybody or any group use you for their own evil purposes. Do not let them play chess with your life, using you as a pawn. You owe it to Iran to be the best representative possible by educating yourself in the field of your interest, holding the highest degree of honor and dignity in the community, wherever you are. Never give up at any time in your life, persistence pays off. Do not forget: At the end of any dark tunnel, there is a light waiting for you. Once you get there, hold the torch up to light the pathway for the others.
When American society rejected me for what I am…
When my son came home with blood coming from his ears, carrying his smashed lunch box…
When Iranian students’ readmission requests to educational institutions were rejected…
When Iranian students had to drop out of college for lack of money because the funds could not be transferred from Iran to the USA…
When Iranians committed suicide in jail for physical abuse and misjudgment…
I did not wish for revenge or destruction; instead, I decided to respond with a positive force: I decided to educate people through the Houtan Foundation’s activities, and I am proud of my peaceful decision.
I have gone through many obstacles in my life, but I never gave up, and finally, I was able to achieve my goal. I find that success and wealth are fulfilling when you are able to share them with others. Perhaps that is what I will leave with the people whose lives I touch.
“Agar Iran bejoz viraan-saraa nist
man on viraan-saraa raa doust daaram
If your answer to any of the following questions is no, you are not eligible to apply for The Houtan Scholarship