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Several guests shared personal memories and stories of the victims. Photo: Aaron Hemens/Fulcrum
Several guests shared personal memories and stories of the victims. Photo: Aaron Hemens/Fulcrum

Three U of O students were among the 176 people killed in last week’s plane crash in Iran

Hundreds gathered at the University Centre’s Agora on Friday for a memorial ceremony that honoured the lives of three University of Ottawa students who were killed in last week’s plane crash near Tehran, Iran.

The three students — Mehraban Badiei Ardestani, an undergraduate health sciences student, Alma Oladi, a graduate student who was completing a PhD in mathematics, and Saeed Kadkhodazadeh Kashani, a graduate student who was completing a PhD in chemistry — were among the 176 people killed when an Iranian missile shot down their Ukraine-bound passenger jet just minutes after its departure. 

“Our hearts break for their families, their loved ones and their friends — many of whom I know are here with us today,” said U of O president Jacques Frémont. “We have come here today to mourn with you, and to offer you our strength and our love at this terrible time.”

Frémont was just one of more than a dozen speakers, which included students, faculty members, colleagues and friends of the victims.

“It was devastating to wake up in the morning and search for your friends’ names in the victims’ list,” said Elmira Mirbahaeddin, a member of the Iranian Student Association of the University of Ottawa (ISAUO).

One student said that when they saw Ardestani’s name in the list of victims, they didn’t want to believe it.

“I met her once or twice, but she had such a nice soul. She was only here for a semester, and she already wanted to be involved in the Iranian Association,” they said. “She already wanted to help everyone out, she wanted to help high schoolers transition into university at our events. It’s devastating that she can’t experience the full university life after her first semester.”

Louis Barriault, the dean of the faculty of science, described both Oladi and Kashani as “generous, kind and caring people.”

“In my experience, the enthusiasm, intelligence, respect that Alma and Saeed brought to us —  while deeply valued — wasn’t apparently unique to them, but a reflection of the Iranian culture and people,” said Barriault.

Andisheh Zahedi, a PhD student and Kashani’s roommate of three years, said that the two clicked right away and became brothers when they met at a U of O orientation session for graduate students in 2017.

“(Kashani) was such a happy, jolly soul. He had the innocence of a kid in his heart. He always had a warm, welcoming smile on his face,” said Zahedi. “Every single memory of him brings a smile on our faces.”

“We will all miss him in every moment of our lives,” he added.

Eric Isbrandt, a PhD student and colleague of Kashani in the Newman Lab research group, said that Kashani was more than a co-worker and was a brother to everyone in the lab.

“Saeed always smiled and could always lift up our spirits. He was always present for social outings, and we had many fun times — both inside and outside of the lab,” said Isbrandt. “It’s going to be incredibly hard to imagine the Newman Lab without Saeed’s laughter, his impressions, or his singing.”

Another student said that they will remember Kashani as a mentor and older brother.

“When I was just a naive, third-year undergrad, he took me under his wing and taught me everything essentially that I know about chemistry that can’t be taught in a class,” they said. 

“I just want to say that Saeed loved life … He truly enjoyed life and I think he would want us to all enjoy our lives as much as we can.”

Adel El Zaïm, the U of O’s chief internationalization officer, urged guests in his parting words to remember the victims and celebrate life.

“Let’s celebrate peace and reconciliation through knowledge and science. Thank you all for your presence here…Let’s support each other,” said El Zaïm.