Mohammad Ali Mojtahedi
1908 -- 1997
Paying our debt
From a letter by Barzin Mobasher, an associate professor at Arizona State University, published in the Alborz High School website calling for the formation of a scholarship fund in the name of the school's late headmaster, Mohammad Ali Mojtahedi who died earlier this year.
It had been a long time since I last cried. But when last weekend I went to Los Angeles to attend the commemoration ceremony for the late Dr. Mojtahedi it happened again. The lights in the auditorium were dimmed to show a video of him greeting former Alborz graduates. When I saw him standing there hugging and kissing his sons, as he referred to all of us, I could not hold the tears back.
Those were the tears of joy. The joy of being his son. Having had this honor in my life to be his student, and knowing that after my parents, I owe a great deal to him. This debt can not be expressed in words since I see the influence of his teachings in every aspect of my personal and professional life.
It has been a few weeks that we have been working on this idea of developing a memorial scholarship in the name of Dr. Mojtahedi. We all seem committed and in agreement that what he did for the educational system in Iran is so profound that future generations should remember him, his ideals, and goals. What better way to perpetuate his teachings by following what he asked us to do in his speech? To help each other, and be there to serve Iran and Iranians.
In the past several weeks I have received many email messages from all over the world. I have tried to compile the ideas. Hopefully we can reach a consensus that all of us will agree to in principal. Though we may each have our own agenda in mind, since I was asked to help organize this effort, I will tell you what my motivations are. Let me start this letter by reciting a memory that I discussed at the commemoration ceremony.
It was the end of summer of 1355 (1976) when we were ready to get back for our last year of studies at Alborz. We were all excited -- only one more year of harsh academic programs left. Some of us were worrying about Emtehaane Nahaee (final exams) , Konkoor (college entrance tests) and such, while others were already thinking about applying to universities abroad.
As the new academic year began, we were all surprised to see a new face who had enrolled in the class 6-1. No one in our entire grade could not ignore the new guy. His name was Vahhaj (we used to call each other by our last names) and he had come from a remote village in the vicinity of Ardabil. In those days, it was rather impossible to get into Alborz if you did not start from the seventh grade. The rule was that anyone interested was given a chance to take the exams with Tajdeedees (exam retakes) at the beginning of Shahreevar (last month of summer).
Well, Vahhaj had surprised everyone by getting perfect scores of 20 in each of the five major subject areas of Algebra, geometry, trigonometry, physics, and chemistry. With a total score of 200, he beat out Alborz' top student, my close friend Farid Shafigh-Nobari whom we used to call by his score, "Farid 199.5"
The surprise element was partly because we were so egotistical about our education at Alborz. We were it, we were Alborzis. We were arrogant. We had physics and chemistry laboratories better than most universities in Iran. We had some of the best and most dedicated teachers. We had had years of rigorous training, and we were not shy in showing off. We had covered the books of planar and space geometry written by Saffari & Ghorbani, and gone over every theorem in there and knew the proofs to each one.
We had Raheem Aqa, the pastry shop owner across Hafez Avenue who would sell us ready made picture perfect drawings for our "tarseeme Fan-ni" class. On top of that, we had our parents and families who had dedicated their lives in order to create a nurturing environment for us to study and be successful. Many family functions and vacation plans were cancelled so as not to interfere with our exams and studies.
Vahhaj was one of many students from various parts of the country who stayed at Alborz dormitories. Soon everyone found out that this guy did not get those scores by mere luck. He was truly an exceptional genius when it came to mathematics. It must have been quite a challenge for the teachers to enter that classroom knowing that Vahhaj and others like him were eager and ready to learn. Within months, he became an ordinary face among the rest and was well accepted among his classmates. He became another Alborzi.
In retrospect, this was truly a humbling experience to see that no matter how hard we worked and tried, there were people like him who were better than us. We were also overwhelmed to see that we belonged to an educational system which used academic excellence as the sole criteria. Despite all the Party-Bazee (favoritism) that went on back then in Iran, this simple rule of academic excellence was implemented by Dr. Mojtahedi.
That academic year, we experienced how that rule actually worked. It was so beautiful to see that there were no discriminations. Age, religion, influence, politics, and family wealth meant nothing to that rule. It did not matter if your father was a cabinet minister, ambassador, or a high ranking official. You had to produce the grades in order to stay, or you were out. You could wine and dine all education ministry officials, you could move mountains, and do all sorts of wheeling and dealing, but you could not get your son into Alborz if he could not keep up with its academic demands.
So whenever some of my dear Alborzi friends refer to Dr. Mojtahedi as a great dictator, I cringe. He was no dictator. He was one of the most open-minded and democratic persons I have ever known. I can only speculate that considering the environment that he had to operate under, he must have gone to a great extent to protect his standards. Yet for all those years, he was able to provide an equal opportunity to all of Iranian high school students.
On a personal note, it is those ideals that give me the motivation to help undertake this effort. It is the hope that we can shape the future through our actions. Every time we see an email about Iranian high-school students winning another chemistry or physics olympiad, we should remember that these bright individuals could have all been Dr. Mojtahedi's sons and daughters.
They may not know him, or know anything about what Alborz was all about. But we owe it to ourselves to keep the fire burning. We owe it to him to spread his teachings, and follow his path in life. After all, those teachings and that path has allowed each of us to make something worthwhile with our own lives.
We should think about Dr. Mojtahedi famous words that the natural wealth of Iran is not in her oil, copper, or carpets, it is the minds of the youth -- minds that when nurtured properly, will help build a better life for future generations.
How can we perpetuate Dr. Mojtahedi's philosophy? How many bright people like Vahhaj are there in Iran who, at this very moment, yearn for that educational opportunity? Is it possible for us to create an opportunity for a few of them to continue their education?
Maybe we can join together and achieve a small but admirable goal. Let us spread and share the love & wealth he has given us. Please get involved with this cause and contact your Alborzi and non-Alborzi friends. This feat would succeed only if we all cooperate. Let us extend an opportunity to some bright individual out there. I look forward to your support, and most importantly hope that you would volunteer to push this cause forward. For more information, click here.
* Alborz history -- From the high school's 1943 yearbook.
* THE IRANIAN Features section
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