Time changes many things, and the 50 years after college graduation are enough time to account for significant change. Dreams are made or lost or replaced, new jobs – hopefully better – are found; addresses change to accommodate new circumstances.
But 50 years has not changed or dimmed the appreciation Feridon Shahbaznia feels for his alma mater. Shahbaznia, who received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Oklahoma in 1963, rekindled his fondness for the Norman campus while traveling to Oklahoma from Los Angeles for Reunion 2013, marking 50 years since he’d studied in an OU classroom.
Although he had been back on campus one other time since he graduated, Shahbaznia remembered exactly how he felt when he arrived at OU as a young man.
“My dream then was to go to college and have a college degree,” he said. “I didn’t know where it would take me.”
The story of how Shahbaznia made his way to OU, scratched together the resources to complete his degree, and the road he has taken since is a remarkable one.
Born and raised in Iran, Shahbaznia grew up dreaming of becoming a doctor, someone who would better the lives of others. However, space in medical schools was extremely limited – out of 25,000 applicants each year, only a few hundred were accepted.
After three years of waiting, hopes held high and then let down, Shahbaznia had enough. He wanted an education, which he felt would give him a chance to contribute to the world. Putting thoughts of medical school behind him, he set his eyes on a new goal: go to a college in the United States.
When he announced to his family that he had been accepted to OU, attained his visa from the U.S. Consulate, and would be leaving in two weeks for America, he was met with disbelief, and more than a little concern. But Shahbaznia was persuasive and more determined than ever to go to college. The start of the fall semester found him sitting in an OU lecture hall alongside fellow students.
During the school term, he threw himself into studies with zeal. In the summer, he traveled with friends to California. They went for fun; he went for a job. The money he’d made working for a construction company in Iran before arriving in the U.S. was all but gone.
He worked multiple jobs, as a busboy, dishwasher and gas station attendant. Sometimes, he would put in 17 hours in a day. During the school year, he pushed himself to study until midnight.
“I did this six years in a row,” Shahbaznia recalled. “The picture at the end was a victory.”
After graduation, Shabaznia returned to California again to work, but not as a busboy. He took a job at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works as a civil engineer. At the time, L.A. was working on numerous projects to build roads and bridges.
During his time in L.A., he met and married his wife, Silvia and started a family. His career continued to grow. He went from a civil engineer to a building contractor and began to build apartments in the area. Today, he owns almost 70 apartment buildings in L.A.
With all the success he’s enjoyed since his time in Norman, Shahbaznia has never forgotten OU. While attending Reunion last fall, he was happy to see the changes his alma mater had made and the renewed vitality of the university.
“Everything is just fantastic,” he said. “There are so many new buildings, and even Norman is different from how I remember it.”
The visit was also an opportunity for Shahbaznia to remember the path that led him, ultimately, to success. Walking through the buildings where he one had classes, he remembered the good times and the struggles but, he said, if he had ten lifetimes to live he would do all of it again just as he had.
Some things, it seems, don’t change.
Reunion 2014 is scheduled for October 17 on the Norman campus. For more information, visit ou.edu/alumni/reunion or contact Jill Stephens at firstname.lastname@example.org.