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Anna G. Larson, Published May 05 2013

'May your soul touch other souls': Roxana Saberi gives commencement speech at Concordia (audio, photo gallery)

MOORHEAD - On Sunday, Roxana Saberi was finally able to give the commencement speech at Concordia College that she’d been anticipating for four years.

Saberi, a 1997 graduate and a Fargo native, was originally asked to be the 2009 commencement speaker. As she humorously said in her opening sentences, she’s sorry she couldn’t make it then – she was in an Iranian prison on a charge of espionage.

Saberi had been working in the country, where she has citizenship because her father is a native of Iran, for news organizations NPR and the BBC since 2003. In 2009, she was working on a book about Iran.

The journalist, author and human rights advocate told graduates and their families about her time in an Iranian prison and how compassion, faith and having soul got her through the toughest days.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances,” Saberi said, quoting psychiatrist, author and concentration camp survivor Viktor E. Frankl.

While imprisoned in Iran for 100 days, Saberi told the crowd that she was allowed to call her father, Reza Saberi, in Fargo. He told her, “Roxana, just remember they can never hurt your soul.” The words stuck with Saberi, and she often whispered to herself Matthew 10:28 from the Bible as she was led, blindfolded, into the interrogation room – “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”

Saberi’s focus on perseverance and soul resonated with Concordia graduate Lydia Griffin. Griffin, who studied abroad in Egypt and graduated with a degree in psychology, related to Saberi’s quest to make a difference, saying that she hopes her life is as “amazing” as Saberi’s someday.

“Her idea of having soul and that no one can take your soul away, that was really touching,” Griffin said. “It moved me.”

Another theme in Saberi’s speech was the power of community. The Fargo-Moorhead community, and particularly the Concordia College community, rallied support for Saberi while she was imprisoned. Attendees at the 2009 commencement ceremony wore yellow ribbons in honor of Saberi. She said that act of unity and support helped her realize, from thousands of miles away, that she wasn’t alone.

“Every voice can make a difference,” Saberi said.

Kaitlyn Garvin, an art history and classics graduate, said that Saberi captured the essence of Concordia in her speech.

“Everything she said about Concordia being a great community and rallying around her – it was amazing, and it’s something great about our school,” Garvin said. “It was beautiful. She’s really an inspiring person and a great role model as an alumna.”

Saberi encouraged the crowd to look into the eyes of the person next to them. She said people would see reflections of themselves.

“When we become aware of this bond, we feel compassion toward others, which helps us serve with a spirit of joy, and I find that the spirit in which service is rendered is more important than the service itself,” she said.

In closing, the journalist told graduates that influencing the affairs of the world happens when their “souls touch other souls.”

“This is what Concordia helped teach me, and I hope it will help you, too, as you set out to influence the affairs of the world,” she said. “Congratulations, Concordia Class of 2013. May your souls touch other souls.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525