'Change is possible'

August 21, 2014

Abuoali "Arash" Mohajerinejad (Oakes '14)
(Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

It took nearly a year for human-rights activist Abuoali "Arash" Mohajerinejad to make his way from Iran to the United Kingdom. 

A member of the International Alliance of Iranian Students, which was pressing for a secular government in Iran, the then-19-year-old Mohajerinejad escaped threats of imprisonment and possible torture by stealing rides on trucks and clinging to the underside of moving rail cars. He hid in train restrooms to escape officials and, once, was arrested trying to cross a border but was let go by a sympathetic officer. In London, he was threatened with deportation until an upwelling of public support helped spark his release.

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But it was on a small boat crowded with refugees that Mohajerinejad (Oakes '14, sociology) had an epiphany. He realized each of his fellow travelers — women, children, and young men — were fleeing some horrible condition in their own country, he says. 

"You learn all these people are your people and that you have to fight for everyone," says Mohajerinejad, who plans to go to law school. "You realize your country is the world." 

Mohajerinejad's work for human-rights causes in Iran and the U.S. is what led him to be given UC Santa Cruz's Gabriel Zimmerman Memorial Scholarship, a $2,500 award named for a UCSC alum and congressional aide who was killed in the 2011 shooting that wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, R-Ariz. It is given to a social sciences undergraduate who is committed to a career in public service. 

While studying at UC Santa Cruz, a place he says feels like home, Mohajerinejad volunteered at the San Francisco County Jail, where he helped inmates with paperwork and made sure they received the services they needed. He worked with the Meals on Wheels program in Santa Cruz, organized fundraisers for the homeless in Oakland, tutored students, and also helped start the Global Nuclear Awareness Coalition on campus. 

"Over all these years, I have never lost my hope for change," Mohajerinejad says. "I always believe change is possible." 

But change, he says, does not just mean replacing a government. 

"I believe everything you do to help another human being is part of change," Mohajerinejad says. "I also believe you can change the world if you change yourself." 

Now living in Berkeley and applying to law schools, Mohajerinejad remembers how his father, who raised oranges, taught him that a farmer works hard all year with the understanding that, in time, nature will give him an outcome for his labor.

"He showed me there is always a result for your hard work. Maybe not today or tomorrow, or it may not be the result you want, but there is always an answer," Mohajerinejad says.