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Aydin Salek, Tragedy Hits Home

Written by Elahe Amani 

"Everyone can master a grief but he that has it."  - William Shakespeare

It was Sunday evening that I heard the sad and heartbreaking news about Aydin Salek.  Aydin died in the earlier hours of Sunday December 13th, one day short of his 18th birthday.


I met Aydin few years ago in one of the community meetings for addressing human rights violations in Iran.  Aydin and his mother were introduced as a family that came recently to Southern California.  Aydin's mother an architect by training, working on her PHD and His father, a dentist  reunited with them only 4 months ago after finally obtaining exit permit to leave Iran.


Aydin came across to me as an energetic, politically aware and engaged teenager.    I recall I encouraged him to explore the opportunities with clubs and organizations such as UNA at his school.  Our very limited interactions convinced me that he was a gifted young man.


It was only after his tragic death that I learned that he was the student representative on the District Board of Education for his 4,000-student school district, club founder and president of Model United Nations,  president and founder of South Pasadena High School American Cancer Society Youth Club, and a writer for the South Pasadena High newspaper.   In winter of 2009, Aydin won the Rotary International Leadership Youth Award.  These are just few of his accomplishments.


Los Angeles Times local news section on Dec 15th had a headline stating "Aydin Salek, 17, was smart and affable, and he had big dreams.  He was among school's most promising and popular students.  He was involved in student government, charity efforts and sport."  Sutton one of the classmate   interviewed by LA Times said " .. his goal was to go to Harvard, become a defense attorney and then a prosecutor and ultimately serve on the U.S. Supreme Court."


The article continues "in his senior year, he wrote for the school newspaper and had volunteered to work for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. He also served as elected student liaison to the South Pasadena School Board. Classmates said he offered a free doughnut to anyone who voted for him and delivered on the promise when he won."

He also competed on the school's swim team and served as its manager. He was president of the American Cancer Society club at the school and participated in Model United Nations. He was outspoken politically and always had a joke ready."  "School Board President Richard Sonner recalled that Salek was so determined to take an active role at board meetings that he studied the law to make his case for student influence."


Aydin's was known as a down to earth student who used his magic to talk about serious matters or as his friends referred to  " un-cool  things"  in a cool way.  Gary Pia, a volunteer with the cancer group said " he had a way of "Tom Sawyer-ing" people into joining his volunteer activities".  "Everyone knew him," said classmate Rachel Sutton, 18. "He was very passionate about everything he did."

Last Monday, on his birthday, a "R.I.P Aydin Salek" page was created on Facebook so that his friends share their pictures and videos.   Only in few days, the page has more than 2300 members.  Facebook actually "memorializes" people's pages when they die. Often, months later, people will still leave messages, as they might leave flowers at a grave.   The idea that "they'll always be alive", on the Internet is not that far from the idea that someone is always alive as long as we remember them.


Although the cause of Aydin's death is still being investigated but there has been a mention of alcohol in initial reports.  Spring semester of senior year is being perceived as the break between the hard work of high school and embarking on college years.  This is the time that many seniors including highly successful ones are vulnerable to excessive behaviors.


The federal government's annual report of kids' alcohol and drug abuse , a survey of  46,000 American 8th, 10th and 12th graders published on December 14th, 2009  indicates that    "Among high school seniors, 11% said they had drunk 10 drinks or more in a row in the two weeks prior to the survey; 6% said they'd had 15 or more.    Needless to say that the accomplished adolescent with high confidence can also be vulnerable as they even feel confident in the moment before the final moment.


Aydin was the very essence of a passionate young man.  For his family he was their beloved son, an accomplished, loving and caring son. For his community he was a promising future leader.   He exemplified the qualities of first generation immigrants, he was proud of his Persian heritage, yet determined to contribute and redefine humanity the way he understood it, using his particular brand of magic.


Aydin was a change maker, a mover and shaker who was not satisfied with what was provided to him rather demanded what he felt belongs to him.  A young leader, who took command not only for his life but also touched and impacted many lives around him.


He was always a cheerful wit, humble and yet  capable with a high level of emotional intelligence to understand and feel people and make connection with them.  I am not surprised at the   influx of e-mails and Facebook postings, not surprised at the pictures and video clips posted to his page on Facebook, not surprised at the number of students who came every night to the front yard of their residence and light candles in a big heart shape,   I am not surprised at the long and colorful 15-foot poster filled with handwritten notes by South Pasadena High students.    As someone who occasionally comes across with similar memorials on campus ( I should say sadly too )  the volume of  what his friends had to share about Aydin  is very special and speaks loud and clear how he touched the life of people around him with his never faded smile, warmth and cheerful presence.


Thinking about Aydin, reminds me of  the signature hit of Skeeter Davis in 1965 , The End Of The World.

Why does the sun go on shining? 
Why does the sea rush to shore?
Don't they know it's the end of the world,

Why do the birds go on singing?
Why do the stars glow above?
Don't they know it's the end of the world.

I wake up in the morning and I wonder,
Why everything's the same as it was.
I can't understand. No, I can't understand,
How life goes on the way it does.

Why does my heart go on beating?
Why do these eyes of mine cry?
Don't they know it's the end of the world?
It ended when you said goodbye.

Why does my heart go on beating?
Why do these eyes of mine cry?
Don't they know it's the end of the world?
It ended when you said goodbye.


Last night Aydin's friends, classmates, teachers and community members walked for 15 minutes from South Pasadena High School to his parent's residence to show their support.  Los Angeles Times article dated December 17th    "Large crowd holds vigil for South Pasadena teen" reports:

"Hundreds of students, teachers and community members gathered outside the high school gym on Diamond Avenue. They held paper cups with tea lights and votive candles glowing in the night.  "Keep Aydin in your hearts," Veiller said.

And then everyone began to walk.

Past the school tennis courts and the aquatic center they walked. In solemn silence, they passed houses trimmed in colorful holiday lights. Cupping hands around their candles, they walked across cracked pavement and past barking dogs. The only sound came from shoes shuffling over the middle of the street.

After 15 minutes, they arrived in the 1800 block of Gillette Crescent, where friends and family members of Salek waited outside a white house.   Led by a student, the crowd softly sang the first verse of "Let It Be."

On December 17, Aidyn's parents were informed that the American Cancer Society- San Gabriel Valley local volunteer recognition awards which take place each year in the fall will be entitled, The "Aydin Salek Award" - recognition for exceptional youth leadership and service. Candidates who receive this award will be youth who contribute to the advancement of the American Cancer Society's mission and civic engagement.


Aydin's parents are respected and socially committed community members.   They have been active in solidarity with the Iranian people who lost their sons and daughters to the atrocities perpetuated in post election demonstrations in Iran.  The community is now sharing the pain they are enduring.


For everything that Aydin's short life manifested, he will live forever in our hearts. His presence in this world is now part of the universe. In the words of Khalil Gibran he stood in the sun and melted into the wind...

... Payvand News - 12/19/09 ... --

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