The pandemic of the past few years disrupted education, pushing children and educators into online classrooms. Many of these classrooms still remain virtual, with Zoom as the only method of connecting. But what if schools had shut down, instead, because of widespread protests, tanks in the streets, and the declaration of martial law?
My senior year of high school coincided with the Iranian revolution. Ettefagh (which means unity in Persian) Jewish day school had been the epicenter of my life during my formative years. My friends and I spent the innocent years of primary school and the boisterous years of high school together. During the 1970s, in prerevolutionary Iran, our lives paralleled our Western counterparts. We attended each other’s birthday parties, watched newly released Hollywood movies, followed the latest Western fashion trends, and idolized the American superstar, David Cassidy. As we grew older, we sat for hours as we shared our secrets or analyzed the latest episode of “Donny and Marie,” the television variety show hosted by the American brother-and-sister duo Donny and Marie Osmond.
As we grew up, we looked forward to our graduation in 1979. We expected to continue our education in one of Tehran’s universities and maintain strong bonds as we took on adulthood responsibilities. But in the summer of 1978, our school’s proximity to the University of Tehran became the epicenter of a revolution. We witnessed chaos, anarchy, and the dissolution of 2,500 years of the Persian monarchy in our country. We remained home instead of fulfilling our senior year in the classroom due to mass uprising and discontent with the status quo. Finally, 1979 ushered in a new era of a clergy-ruled promised utopia.
The chains of years of friendship were so badly severed that there was no time for proper goodbyes or graduation, as most of my friends searched for new lives elsewhere.
The acute societal turmoil of that era disrupted our education and affected students’ life outcomes. The future remained unknown, with speculations for the worst to come. Suddenly, our laid-out plans became unattainable. Most of my community, apprehensive of the hostile authoritarian government in charge of a new order, hastily left our ancient homeland. The chains of years of friendship were so badly severed that there was no time for proper goodbyes or graduation, as most of my friends searched for new lives elsewhere. But I remained in the Islamic Republic of Iran for eight more years. Social media didn’t exist, and new laws further broke friendship ties. I forever lost a close friend who had gone to Israel, and by state mandate, I could no longer contact her from Iran.
I finally immigrated to the United States in 1987, and for almost thirty years, my high school years remained a fragment of my memories. Those friendships belonged to a forgotten era and a lost world that no longer existed. Furthermore, it was likely that, due to marriage, my friends had different last names, as I, too, now carried my married last name.
Then, in the summer of 2010, I got an unexpected call from New York. Vida, an Ettefagh classmate whom I had not heard from since 1979, said that with the help of a distant family connection in Chicago, I had been “found.” The overwhelming majority of my friends had resettled in southern California or New York and its surrounding area, while I had made my life in the Midwest.
At our high school reunion in February 2015, we, the graduating students of the class of 1979, gathered from different corners of the United States and celebrated our long friendships in Los Angeles. Fortunately, our assistant principal, physics teacher, and art teacher, who are now in the later parts of their lives, also attended. One of us told the art teacher about the prank she had pulled off in the class by showing the teacher someone else’s work and receiving a good grade!
Exhilarated by our get-together, we reminisced about the “good old days.” We laughed, cried, joked, and shared memories of our teachers, the school janitor, and the school team’s basketball matches. We fondly recalled the sandwich shop and the bakery we used to visit during our lunch hours and the lavashak (thin pieces of dried fruit) treats we used to have during recess. Who else could I sit with and share stories from another time, culture, and place, who could understand and complete my unfinished sentence?
There is nothing like the feeling of reconnecting with a friend from high school as we are getting older. Life has its way of dispersing people, but when you meet again years later, you find that your friend did not go away. Today, our American children have no recollections of how life was before the revolution. But as I reminisce about the halcyon days of my past, I’m thrilled to savor old memories and recreate new ones with those who lived it with me.
Recently, my friends and I attended the wedding of a classmate’s son in New York. During the long weekend filled with magical moments, we felt like teenagers again. Then, on a short two-day visit to Los Angeles, I made sure to make dinner plans with my friends before heading off to the airport. On a broader scale, there is now a Facebook page dedicated to attendees of Ettefagh school, with photos from the 1960s and 1970s when we were students in a world that no longer exists.
A Persian saying goes something like this: “Mountain ranges will never be within each other’s reach, but people will somehow reconnect again.” (“Kooh be kooh nemireseh, ama adam be adam mireseh.”) Despite the forty-three-year time-lapse, this expression is a testament to the graduating class of the Iranian revolution and to our undeniable bond that transcends time and distance.
Jacqueline Saper is the author of “From Miniskirt to Hijab: A Girl in Revolutionary Iran.” (Potomac Books of the University of Nebraska Press). jacquelinesaper.com