Gina Parvaneh Cody is a benefactor of the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science at Concordia University in Montreal.
Engineers, students, scientists, professors, newlyweds – all tragically lost on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 while en route to Kyiv from Tehran.
Most of the passengers were travelling on to Canada, and of the 176 who died on that flight, dozens came from one of the many immigrant communities that make up our country. They are a snapshot of what success looks like, professionally and personally. Their accomplishments are a point of pride for everyone who shares their Iranian heritage – as I do – their passport or their postal code. It’s a grave loss for Canada.
As I watched the details emerge over the past few days, as names and faces replaced the numbers, my heart broke. So many bright lives, full of possibilities, cut far too short. This event has touched so many Canadians because we recognize ourselves or someone we love in the lives of the victims.
For myself, the similarities with many of the deceased are too many to avoid. Fifteen of the passengers were graduates of Sharif University of Technology, my alma mater in Iran; many of the deceased were international students studying in universities across Canada; two of the passengers, Siavash Ghafouri-Azar and Sara Mamani, had just been married in Iran and had recently completed their master’s degrees in engineering from Concordia University in Montreal, my alma mater in Canada. I say this, not to try to inject myself into the tragedy, but to highlight how their stories are our stories, how they shared the same hopes and aspirations as so many Canadians.
We live in a time where some would have us focus on our differences, but if there is any truth to be learned from this terrible event, it is that we don’t have to look hard to find the many common bonds we all share, no matter our religion, race, gender or wealth. This event is yet another reminder that life is fragile and that we should spend our time building new connections and bridging our differences. I think it’s fair to say that Canada was richer for having Siavash, Sara or any of the other victims who called this country home.
This tragedy is reminiscent of the Air India Flight 182 disaster in 1985, when 329 people – many Canadians of Indian descent – were killed on a flight to Delhi from Toronto via Montreal and London.
At that time, I was a graduate student at Concordia, and many victims had direct ties to the university. A fellow PhD engineering student died, and one professor lost his entire family. The similarities between these two aviation disasters strike me today, as I contemplate the magnitude of the tragedy.
Both flights devastated one particular community, and both contained victims who strove to make the best life possible in Canada. Their contributions to Canada were many, across a variety of fields and sectors of society. One commonality is their focus on higher education. From engineering and dentistry to business and industry, they earned advanced degrees and often excelled in academic careers.
At Concordia, I was fortunate because acceptance of a diverse range of international students was woven into the fabric of the culture – as it was at many other Canadian universities. This encouraged the successful integration of new Canadians into society.
With higher education being an entryway for new Canadians, it’s important to remember how crucial diversity is in fulfilling the inclusive vision of our country. That vision extends to national mourning, as we join the Iranian-Canadian community in its grief.
We need to continue embracing the unique and welcoming diversity that is Canada in a way that honours the memory of the lost.
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