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Dr. Shirin Ebadi Delivers Powerful and Inspiring Address to Students

At 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, all the seats in Gasson 100 had been filled. Listeners continued to pack the large room, as they gathered to stand around the seated audience. Excited conversations could be heard all around regarding the afternoon’s speaker.

About fifteen minutes later, a small Iranian woman was welcomed to the stage, accompanied by her translator. She was introduced as Dr. Shirin Ebadi, a world-renowned lawyer, former judge, author and rights activist.

Ebadi humbly greeted and thanked those present for coming to listen. Then, she simply informed the crowd, “I want to talk to you about failure.”

She listed several instances of failure, suggesting that such experiences often elicit emotions of panic and disheartenment in people. She talked about the unnerving qualities of inadequacy and the distress that inevitably accompanies such disappointment. Yet, minutes later, Ebadi confidently and plainly looked out at her audience, and assured them that, “Any failure can be turned into a larger victory.”

Ebadi then recounted a dismaying defeat in her own life, following the Iranian revolution in 1979, when she was dismissed from her position as a judge because of her status as a woman. Ebadi  remembered feeling as if she had lost a part of her identity and felt a sort of outrage at the depreciation of a human female life. But instead of harboring anger into harmful actions against her society, she used it to advance society by beginning to work and write.

In time, her articles, books, actions as a lawyer and work as an activist became very significant on an international level. She eventually received 25 honorary doctorate degrees from universities around the world. Ebadi has become an influential figure in peace activism, as she is recognized consistently for significant efforts to develop diplomatic solutions to serious societal issues. Ebadi’s work, which primarily focuses on the rights of women and children, was globally acknowledged in 2003 when she became the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

In light of all the successes she appreciated in her life, Ebadi insisted that it was failure itself that served as the primary gateway to such accomplishments. “My dear young friends, have dreams. Follow your dreams, and don’t be afraid of failure,” she movingly entreated.

The inspired audience clapped and cheered as the Iranian lawyer prepared to continue in her discourse. Freshman Kathryn Davie CSON ’19 remarked that already Ebadi’s words had moved her, saying that the achievements of the Iranian lawyer, “make me want to make a difference.”

Ebadi transitioned to a reflection on more recent years, when she once again found herself in a disheartening situation. In 2009, Ebadi found herself living in the UK, exiled due to persecution of Iranian citizens who disagree with the country’s current regime. While she explained that her recent work was deemed progressive and useful, she also described the resulting backlash in her home country -- this involved the arrest of her family members and threats on her life. However, any attempt to silence, bribe or threaten Ebadi was met with a declaration that regardless of the things that may happen in her life, she would always pursue her work, because she “loved justice more” than anything else.

Ebadi concluded her address by calling on the citizens of other countries, requesting support in her great mission to “bring the voice of the people of Iran,” that is silenced by censorship, to the rest of the world. She reminded the crowd in Gasson that although the Middle East may seem far away, the “destinies of all human beings are intertwined,” and that the influence of our actions as citizens of a democracy is quite powerful.

Many members of the audience asked her questions following the end of her talk, inquiring about her opinion about the actions of the United States in relation to Iran and ways citizens can individually impact positive change in an international issue. She simply said that the US should not sell or distribute weaponry in the Middle East and that citizens can exercise the power of their votes to bring peaceful leaders into positions of authority.

The activist once again thanked her listeners in Gasson and said, “I wish peace on your country.”  Ebadi meekly left her podium, after sharing with the audience her outstanding courage as a woman, lawyer and supporter of justice.

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