Campus and community mourn, celebrate students

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A top student who saw beauty in the misshapen copper detritus that was a byproduct of her research.

A polite student with five peer-reviewed journal articles before his arrival and three more completed a short two years into his PhD.

A knowledge-hungry woman who, with her husband, transplanted their lives in her quest to find a cure for diabetes.

An optimistic scientist who walked her friends through study and heartbreak, convincing them that everything was going to be OK in the end.

Each of their stories – slivers, glimpses, snapshots of memory – are multiplied across Canada and the world as families and friends continue to mourn the 176 people who lost their lives when Flight PS752 was shot from the sky on Jan. 8 shortly after leaving Tehran airport.

About 500 mourners from the Western community and from across the city gathered in a memorial service at Western’s Alumni Hall on Wednesday in a tearful tribute to the university’s four graduate students on that flight:

Hadis Hayatdavoudi, a PhD candidate in Chemistry.

Milad Nahavandi, a PhD candidate in Chemical & Biochemical Engineering.

Ghazal Nourian, a PhD candidate in Mechanical & Materials Engineering

Sajedeh Saraeian, an incoming master’s student in Chemical Engineering & Biochemical Engineering.

The memories shared by their faculty supervisors, campus classmates and friends reflect the depth of the profound loss to their families, their friends, Western and the world, Western President Alan Shepard said.

More than 20 other Canadian postsecondary institutions are also in mourning, he noted. “So, we are not alone in our grieving. And we are not alone in wanting answers to many questions. But it is a comfort that we have a strong, resilient, and caring community.”

Sadaf Mehrabi, on behalf of Western’s Iranian students, spoke with affection for all of her friends – appending ‘joon’ (‘beloved soul’) to each of their names – and vowed, “We will remember you in our hearts and our thoughts and our memories of the times we laughed and cried and lived our lives together.”

She added in a message to those assembled, “It is a real comfort to know our dear friends were loved by so many of you and had a place in your hearts.”

To all Canadians, she said “Thank you for keeping us in your warm embrace. Thank you for not abandoning us in our hard times and thank you for soothing us.”

Some excerpts of the tributes spoken Wednesday:

Hadis Hayatdavoudi, a PhD candidate in Chemistry.

Hadis “was the smartest, kindest, and strongest girl I had ever known,” said friend Niloofar Mansouri. “I met her first when she was 18, a young energetic girl with that beautiful smile, who could bring hope and happiness to my challenging days at the beginning of our studies. We made a friendship that lasted for years. She was always ready to help and had big dreams of establishing a charity organization. My mission, from now on, will be to do that, to make her happy.”

Hadis was someone who laughed easily and sincerely, said Chemistry professor Jamie Noël, her supervisor. Hadis could find joy in everything, from visiting Niagara Falls for the first time, to seeing something pretty in small, off-round copper balls that were the byproducts of her lab work. “Normally, we would simply discard these, but Hadis thought they were beautiful, and wanted to save some of them for making jewelry.”

Milad Nahavandi, a PhD candidate in Chemical & Biochemical Engineering.

In 2016, Nahavandi sent an email asking to join the team and citing five papers he had published in peer-reviewed journals, said Engineering professor Cunbao (Charles) Xu, who served as his advisor. It seemed too good to be true but any doubt was “purged away by his hard work, motivation and self-dedication to the research project.”

Nahavandi had recently decided he wanted to become a professor one day, said student Farshad Jalili, who called his friend a brave, joyful genius. “Personally, for me, Milad is alive. I can imagine he is walking in the corridors of Engineering building, talking with different people about different issues. I have him in my heart and my mind forever.”

Sajedeh Saraeian, an incoming master’s student in Chemical Engineering & Biochemical Engineering.

Sajedeh was looking forward to a new chapter in her life after being accepted to Western and was just about to begin her master’s degree. She and her husband Mohammad Javad Mianji had mortgaged their home in Iran so that she could study here and seek a cure for diabetes, said friend Pooneh Farhat. “Besides her academic goals, she had a golden heart who loved and was loved.”

Sajedeh was a top-performing student, with a heart to match, said her supervisor, Engineering professor Ajay Ray. He referenced what her dean wrote in her recommendation letter: “She has a thirst to achieve her goal to create a better world. I have no doubt that she will achieve that in life as she has leadership skills and is an articulate business women, who is capable to carry out any jobs in competitive industrial areas.”

Ghazal Nourian, a PhD candidate in Mechanical & Materials Engineering

A tribute to Ghazal read on behalf of friend Tara Amiri said, “Words cannot describe how kind, sweetheart, thoughtful, calm, trustworthy, smart, beautiful – inside and outside – she was. She had a strong personality and whenever we talked about our struggles that we have to deal with, deep inside she was positive, and she believed that everything will be all right.”

Ghazal’s supervisor, Engineering professor Eric Johlin, said her enthusiasm and genuine optimism made her “a wonderful presence” in his research group. “Considering the quick progress she had made in her short time here, I wish I could have seen the scientist such a bright and enthusiastic student such as herself would have become. Her passing is truly a terrible loss for us, for Western, for everyone really, and she will be dearly missed.”