New scholarship honors diversity

Layla Abbas
Assistant Editor

Taghi Mirsepassi founded and established the Heshmat Mirsepassi Endowed Scholarship for Muslim Students at the University of La Verne in honor of his late wife Heshmat.

The first recipient of the scholarship will be awarded for the 2018-2019 school year.

The scholarship is offered to Muslim students who attend La Verne, participate in the Muslim Student Association, demonstrate financial need, maintain a 3.0 GPA and submit a letter of recommendation from their imam or local Muslim leader.

Taghi Mirsepassi, 96 years old, spoke about his late wife, Heshmat Mirsepassi, while tears trickled down his face.

“From the time we got married she was very unhappy that the students would come to school with nothing to eat,” he said. “So that is when she decided to save as much as she could to help the needy students.”

Heshmat Mirsepassi tucked away money in a box for 65 years. She did not reveal her box of savings to her husband until a week before she died in 2016.

Heshmat Mirsepassi was determined to give back to the community after her time as a school teacher in Iran.

She told Taghi Mirsepassi to use the savings to help Muslim students in need. Taghi Mirsepassi was inspired by his wife’s gratitude and her willingness to help students.

“Heshmat was very caring to her students,” Taghi Mirsepassi said. “All of the students loved her, because she was very friendly and warm with each of them.”

Taghi Mirsepassi became well acquainted with his wife’s family after living with them in Tehran, Iran while he attended college. He remembers the generosity of Heshmat’s mother who cared for five of her own children and took him in.

Taghi Mirsepassi was 22 years old when his father asked him to start thinking about his own future.

“So I chose to get married, I chose my future to be my wife,” Taghi Mirsepassi said. “The rest of it was in the hands of my father. He met with Heshmat’s family and made arrangements for the marriage.”

At the time, Taghi Mirsepassi made enough money from the railways to support both of them. Heshmat Mirsepassi stopped teaching to take care of their only daughter. Taghi Mirsepassi attended Columbia University and received his master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1948.

After searching for a place to start this scholarship in memory of his wife, he spoke with his neighbor of 30 years and former philosophy/religion professor at La Verne, John Khanjian.

Khanjian told Mirsepassi to speak with the University and he eventually established the scholarship.

“Most Arabs coming to La Verne are going to be first generation, meaning they are not wealthy people,” Khanjian said. “They need help, because nobody can support themselves independently. Education is so expensive now.”

Nala Kachour, sophomore biology major, heard about the scholarship at her high school in Pomona, City of Knowledge.

The scholarship essay question asked, “How do you think being Muslim will influence your future profession?”

Kachour said Muslims are expected to work hard every day of their life.

“Islam is a religion that encourages people to find success by doing things for your own religion in order to succeed in the next life, but to also succeed in this life as well,” Kachour said.

Kachour referenced a quote from Imam Ali that says, “Work for your afterlife as if you will die tomorrow, and work for this life as if you will live forever.”

“Ali encourages us to think about our year after and about this life,” Kachour said. “As a Muslim half of my entire faith is dedicated to thinking about how I am going to succeed in this life as if I am going to live forever and that alone encourages me so much.”

Kachour has noticed more women in hijabs, a scarf covering worn by Muslim women, on campus.

“Before, it would just be myself and one other person wearing the hijab,” Kachour said. “The campus is small so you pretty much see everyone. The name of Islam is more heard in La Verne now.”

Zandra Wagoner, university chaplain and professor of philosophy and religion, said it is a great opportunity for La Verne to offer this scholarship for Muslim students.

“We want to be an institution that the Muslim community trusts and would want to attend, but we do not have a large critical mass of Muslim students,” Wagoner said. “We all know a sense of belonging in a place is increased when you know there are other people who look like you and have similar experiences.”

Wagoner said she hopes this scholarship increases the amount of Muslim students on campus.

The diversity and inclusivity core value is a commitment to provide a quality and inclusive education to any student that attends La Verne.

“This scholarship is helping increase a tangible symbol of that commitment,” Wagoner said. “It is also a great opportunity to reach out to the Muslim community and say we are actually committed to you as a community. We are not just saying diversity as an empty phrase, it actually has resources behind it.”

The new building of the Ludwick Center for Spirituality, Multicultural Advancement and Community Engagement will have a designated area where Muslims can go to pray five times a day.

The bathrooms on the first floor will be equipped with washing stations so students can properly cleanse themselves before prayer.

“We want the Muslim community to feel welcomed here and want to further their education on our campus,” Wagoner said.

“We hope our tangible symbol of our commitment encourages more Muslims to attend the University.”

Mirsepassi is glad to have his scholarship offered to students at La Verne who will benefit fully from the money.

“I’m sure my wife would be happy I did this, no doubt about it,” Mirsepassi said.

“She told me many times, if she had money she is going to spend it to help the students and the scholarship is the best way you can do that.”

Kachour said she was glad to apply to this scholarship dedicated to the Muslim community.

“This scholarship inspires others to do good for their own community,” Kachour said. “There are so many scholarships for so many other things, but you rarely see a scholarship for Muslim students. Heshmat Mirsepassi made a change and did something new which is really aspiring.”

Layla Abbas can be reached at layla.abbas@laverne.edu.

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