She will forever be the one we didn’t get to meet.
Her dream was clear: Sajedeh Saraeian wanted to offer diabetic patients relief from painful daily injections. In her search for a university where she could pursue that work, she viewed the online profiles of Western Chemical Engineering professors – one by one – and was intrigued by their research.
Western was a fit for her – she would pursue a master’s degree followed, she hoped, by a PhD.
It was a big leap, one with a lot of effort and heartache. Saraeian and her husband, Mohammad Javad Mianji, mortgaged their home to pay for travel to Canada, tuition and living expenses. She would miss her friends dearly, but was buoyed by the fact she would soon be pursuing her dreams as one of 20 Chemical and Biochemical Engineering students beginning the program.
That dream, however, ended in the skies above Iran as Saraeian and Mianji were among 176 passengers killed when their Kiev-bound plane was shot down shortly after takeoff from Tehran airport. She was one of four Western graduate students on that plane.
“Now, all of those motives, hopes and wishes are gone forever,” said Yalda Chehrehsaz, a friend of the couple and a graduate student at Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran, Iran.
Fellow Western Engineering graduate student Soheil Bakhtiari came to know Saraeian through a Telegram group for incoming students – UWO, Winter 2020. Through that site, among others, the incoming class used technology to bridge distance, get to know each other, and help answer questions about the university and city as they prepared to begin their studies.
Bakhtiari never saw her face, as Sajedeh did not have a profile picture on her account, or did he hear her voice, but he knew her name when he read about the downing of the plane.
When Western students gathered in the days following, Bakhtiari knew the other three students had friends on campus to talk about them. He asked to tell the story of Sajedeh, as much as he knew of it. “I believe it was my duty to not let her be alone.”
While Western never got to know Saraeian, her friends halfway around the globe want the campus community to understand the kindness, compassion and empathy lost that day.
“I learned a lot from her. We got to know each other in the first semester of our bachelor’s degree and were together every day for four years,” said Maryam Mashhadi, an undergraduate classmate. “Sajedeh was beside me – both in the hardships of my life and in celebrating my joys. She was as supportive of me as a sister.
“All those who ever knew her – even for an hour – know that a thousand hopes and glittering days were burned in the fire. She is gone but never forgotten.”
From the first time they met, Saraeian and Chehrehsaz were close friends, and along with their husbands and others, became an inseparable group of friend. “I am still waiting for her call to say loud with joy, ‘Hiiiii, Kid! Where are you two? We are coming to your house, and don’t worry about the dinner, we are bringing it ourselves.’”
They were a family. Meals. Birthday celebrations. And many game nights. Charades was a particular favourite. “We took it so seriously like it was the Pantomime World Cup.” Saraeian would celebrate each victory with a loud ‘Yes!’ followed by a high five and hug of her teammates.
“I still feel her hands,” Chehrehsaz said.
Chehrehsaz called Saraeian and Mianji “the kindest and most humble people” she ever met. “They cared so much about everybody,” she said, while relating stories of the numerous times she depended on Chehrehsaz’s shoulder for support.
“When I think about that kind and bright eyes of Sajedeh and the beautiful eyes and kind smile of Mohammad Javad, I can feel my smile back even in these awful days of my life.”
Among the many examples of their kind hearts, Saraeian and Mianji paid the monthly expenses of some of the orphans from Ameneh Nursery, an orphanage organization in Iran. “It is almost like the orphans lost their parents again,” Chehrehsaz said.
Last week, the group of friends gathered at the airport to wish Saraeian and Mianji well on their new adventure in Canada. The couple were excited, optimistic about life and the future.
“I was so happy for them from the bottom of my heart. It was like it was me that was reaching my dreams and they have come true,” Chehrehsaz said. “But we all did not know in just few hours later all of that happiness and laughter would be replaced by mourning and a broken heart.”
Saraeian’s last words to Chehrehsaz came at 17:05 p.m. Jan. 6 (Tehran Time). They are captured in a private chat on a message app:
“I know how hard the process is, but do not lose hope and please do your best to go and reach your dreams.”