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Flight 752: A loss for the Canadian academic community

- Sarah Tarnopolsky

The Iranian community gathered at the Yalda (solstice) event in December, 2019. Photo supplied by Saeed Rezvani.

UVic establishes an Iranian Student Memorial Scholarship to honour those whose lives were lost

On January 8, 2020, Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 was shot out of the sky by an Iranian missile minutes after leaving Tehran. Of the 176 people on board, at least 61 were directly affiliated with Canadian universities, including first-year University of Victoria student, Roja Omidbakhsh. The feeling across Canada was that this was not just a loss for each university, but for the entire Canadian academic community.

That day, Saeed Rezvani, President of the UVic Iranian Students Association (IRSA), unknowingly opened his laptop to check the latest news and messages from his home country.

“It was an unsettling time for everyone here, so we were following news from Iran very closely. Then all of a sudden this happened,” Rezvani says, referring to the immediate shock and grief felt by the Iranian community. “It was a moment of breakdown for a lot of people. We didn’t have any other choice except for getting together and helping each other out of this tragedy.”

The following day, at a vigil held at the Graduate Students’ Centre, attendees talked about creating a scholarship in memory of those whose lives were lost. Rezvani took the proposal to the university administration, who supported the idea and pledged $25,000 in matching funds.

After weeks of fundraising, the fund is now well on its way to becoming endowed. It will support two annual scholarships: one each for an academically outstanding undergraduate and graduate student who are Iranian citizens, or Canadian citizens or permanent residents with Iranian ancestry. It will also ensure the tragedy remains part of the university’s collective memory.

“Ten years from now the whole generation of students will have changed, but the scholarship will still be in place,” says Rezvani. “It will be a reason for students to go back and learn what happened. And it will remind Iranian students that they are part of a community that cares.”

In the weeks following the crash, Rezvani says he received emails and phone calls from all sorts of people expressing their grief and solidarity, including community members, students, professors, the Chancellor and the President.

“I’d like to thank the people who helped us during this difficult time,” says Rezvani, “Iranian and non-Iranian community members who reached out, and of course the university and all the individuals who have donated to the scholarship.”

Anyone wishing to donate to the Iranian Student Memorial Scholarship can do so online, or through the Development Office. All donations will be matched by the University of Victoria (up to a maximum of $25,000).

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Keywords: philanthropy, student support

Publication: The Ring


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