EastBay Today

Posted May 5, 2017

Journey From Afar

For Reza Khorasani, the road to graduation includes love, loss and nearly 10,000 miles

Reza Khorasani knew that when it came to his education, he wanted to push his boundaries, get outside of his comfort zone — and when he receives his medallion at Cal State East Bay’s Honors Convocation May 13, he will know he has done those things.

Honors convocation

Saturday, May 13 marks Cal State East Bay's Honors Convocation ceremony at the Music Building Peristyle. Each honors graduate will be given a medallion commemorating their academic status of cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude.

What he didn’t know was how arduous the journey would be, or how far it would take him.

“I made a decision I would like to be exposed to other cultures from around the world,” Khorasani says of moving to America from his native Iran.

Yet leaving home is never that simple. The youngest of five children, Khorasani was just 10 years old when his older brother Mustafa, 20, died in a car accident. After that, Khorasani’s mother struggled with allowing her children to move far from home. But that didn’t stop him. At 16, despite not speaking a word of Arabic or English, Khorasani decided to attend an American high school in Dubai, where his father ran a restaurant. His mother ended up moving with him, but Khorasani says it didn’t make the transition any easier.

“That was one of the toughest decisions I ever made in my life,” he says. “The first six months were very tough.”

For his next hurdle, Khorasani resolved to go farther abroad to continue his education. He applied and was accepted to Cal State East Bay and flew to California on his own, knowing no one. “It was very scary to me,” he says. “It’s tough being alone with no family. Family is very important, and I realized that more than ever when I came here.”

But he threw himself into university life, and now, four years later, he is set to graduate with dual degrees in biology and biochemistry, a GPA of 3.8 and several more accomplishments under his belt.

For example, during his time at Cal State East Bay, Khorasani has been an active tutor, working 20 hours a week; excelled in his classes; and connected with science professors who invited him to join their research, including his mentors, Professor Christoph Baysdorfer and Assistant Professor Nazzy Pakpour. Under Assistant Professor Patrick Fleming, Khorasani marked his crowning achievement — a published work in the scientific journal Elsevier Computational and Theoretical Chemistry.

Notwithstanding all those activities, Khorasani says it was his time as CFO and vice president of finance for Associated Students Inc. that has been most transformative, including learning to navigate differences of opinion.  

“There was always a surplus in the budget and everyone thought that was a bad thing, so I wanted to get the word out to [student] clubs that ASI has money for them,” Khorasani says. “I went head-to-toe with the ASI president. We had our day. But in the second half of the year, we learned to work together. All these things taught me a lot about how shared governance works.”

Khorasani also used his time as a student to home in on his future, with help from the nonprofit Flying Doctors, which is known by its Spanish name, Los Médicos Voladores. He has taken eight trips to disadvantaged communities around California to help with health care, and while he initially thought he would become a doctor, the trips convinced him to pursue dentistry.

“I realized this is my passion,” he says. “In medicine, the patients come in, get their medication and leave. It takes time to see results. In dentistry, the problem gets resolved, and they leave happy. This is what I want to do.”

Next fall, Khorasani will start dental school at UCSF, by several measures the top dental school in the country, and hopes to remain in the United States to start his own practice.

“It’s my dream school,” he says.

“It’s unfortunate, but there are many reasons why families can’t sometimes travel to be with their students, financial reasons and so forth.”

Professor Bridget Ford, the honors program faculty advisor, says Khorasani “never thought he would get in because the percentage of international students that they accept is very small. He’s accomplished so much.”

Now, on the verge of being the first in his family to graduate college, he’s not sure if any of his family can come from Iran to be with him due to the uncertain nature of a federal travel ban on citizens of certain predominantly Muslim countries. Still, he remains positive and says his family will be watching him on the internet.

“I personally haven’t had any issues or been persecuted by the travel ban,” Khorasani says. “I’m here as a guest of the United States. The only problem, or disappointment, is that my family can’t come to be with me at graduation. It’s unfortunate, but there are many reasons why families can’t sometimes travel to be with their students, financial reasons and so forth. My family — my mother Zahra and father Abdolhossein — have been integral to everything I’ve achieved, so I personally empathize with all students who can’t have their families present at graduation for any reason.”

And though he’ll miss his family, Khorasani won’t be alone at commencement come June. He will be graduating alongside his wife — fellow student and biochemistry major Talitha Khorasani. “The biggest gem I will take away from East Bay will be my dear wife,” he says. “She is great and I love her to death.”

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