Six of the most accomplished Iranian Americans in the world gathered at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Mother’s Day to share the trials and tribulations of their lives with the next generation. The event was the first of what is to be an annual PAAIA sponsored tradition at the end of each academic year called “Passing the Torch of Success to the Next Generation of Leaders,” a forum aimed at inspiring Iranian American youth with lessons learned from the community leaders of today.
Popular actor-comedian Maz Jobrani opened the show to a sold out audience of 1,800 saying “Everyone I know is here. It feels like one big family gathering. Agha yeki chayee beeyareh!” (Someone bring the tea!)
Senior Vice President of International News Gathering for CNN worldwide, Parisa Khosravi was the first to take the podium. Longtime friend and co- host Rudi Bakhtiar described her as “an even better friend and mother than she is Senior VP.” Khosravi, who has covered every major news event from the fall of the Soviet Union to the ongoing crisis in Pakistan and Afghanistan, is responsible for CNN’s entire international news gathering operation which includes over 70 correspondents in 33 bureaus worldwide. Khosravi who also oversees CNN’s 24-7 International Assignment Desk and CNN’s relations with over 200 International Affiliates around the World, talked about her climb to the top of the worlds most famous news organization saying “remember to enjoy the journey along the way.”
Harvard professor and evolutionary geneticist extraordinaire, Dr. Pardis Sabeti, talked about her current research and chasing deadly diseases across Africa, before mesmerizing the crowd with her musical talent. Strumming an acoustic guitar and playing a song she wrote for her grandmother when she died, the Rhodes Scholar who by day develops algorithms which have put her at the top of her field, captivated the audience with her sultry voice and moving lyrics in “Be omideh didar” (With the hope of seeing you again).
It was a tough act to follow, but against the beautiful backdrop of breathtaking pictures of the universe, NASA’s Firouz Naderi wowed the crowd even more with a glimpse into the future of space exploration. One of the forces behind NASA’s recent successful Mars landings, Naderi stressed college is only the beginning of the learning process. “Retain intellectual curiosity throughout your career and once you get too comfortable in a field expand into unknown territories,” said Naderi. “Keeping this up will give you a broad base of knowledge that is how you get to the top of the corporate management ladder.”
Naderi, known for his philanthropic side, also talked openly about his involvement in PAAIA, adding, “Not everything you do needs to be about you. The most important thing you can do in your life is if you fundamentally change the course of someone else’s life for the better.”
Many in the audience could not wait to hear from the current Vice Chairman of Citicorp, the main operating arm of the financial giant Citigroup, Hamid Biglari who spoke about the importance of reinventing oneself as a key to professional success. Describing how he himself navigated three different careers successfully, first as a nuclear physicist, then as a management consultant, and currently as a Wall Street executive, Biglari shared lessons he had picked up along the way. He also described the challenges of success, including the toll they take on one’s personal life and further noting “there was no definition of an impactful life that did not include service to the community.”
Sam Nazarian a.k.a. “The King of Cool” and head of entertainment conglomerate SBE, delivered the biggest surprise of the evening when the man known for his expensive taste and upscale lifestyle told the attendees he was so driven to learn the hotel and restaurant industry, he started working at the age of 13, cleaning bathrooms and holding various odds and ends jobs much to the chagrin of his parents. Nazarian, who said “luck” plays an important part in success, stressed “knowing your craft is more important, otherwise you might not know when an opportunity is presenting itself.”
For the grande finale, it was Omid Kordestani Uncut. The former Senior Vice President for Worldwide Sales and Field Operations of Google delivered a raw and intimate speech, openly talking about winding up in therapy at the height of his career wondering why he was unhappy. You could hear a pin drop as the man credited with developing the business model for Google’s success outlined his advice to the next generation. “Have the most audacious mission for your life, don’t be afraid to fail, and surround yourself with quality people” recommended the visionary who said he has learned to make the biggest decisions in his life with his heart, not his head.
“This is the most amazing Iranian American event I’ve ever been too,” gushed one of the attendees waiting outside the VIP room hoping for a picture with any one of the speakers. “I’m so glad I came, and I brought my whole family!”
“I’m so inspired,” said a young mother. “I brought my son, thinking this will be great for him, but I learned so much! I’m so proud to be an Iranian American.”
When all was said and done over half of the audience answered PAAIA’s call to join the organization. “Tonight exemplifies PAAIA’s mission to celebrate our achievements and unite our community,” said a thrilled Babak Hoghooghi, the Executive Director of PAAIA.
Public Relations Director for PAAIA, Rudi Bakhtiar echoed his sentiments adding “when over a thousand people join in one night it means they get it. They understand what we are trying to do, and they want to be part of it. It’s a great night for Iranian Americans. I sense a change in our collective consciousness, a good change.”
This extraordinary event was organized in collaboration with and was hosted by the Iranian Future Leaders, a student organization at UCLA.
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