Commencement speaker focused on family finds support at PSU

Mona (left) and Mania Asadi Zadeh, ’17, celebrate a new beginning in America.

For the GSE’s Mania Asadi Zadeh, this year’s PSU student commencement speaker, life is all about family. She grew up in a multigenerational household in Tehran, Iran, so when her older sister Mona wanted to join her in the United States, Mania was thrilled. She was not expecting her sister to become caught up in an immigration crisis that made national news. Mania, a GSE counseling major had a real-life problem that would require all of her years of training to solve.

Mania did not start her undergraduate college career wanting to be a counselor. She envisioned a high-paying profession, like pharmacist, so she could help support her family. She took every science course she could at PCC and transferred to Portland State as a junior in 2012. In 2014, Mania earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at PSU. Working with PSU advisors in her undergrad years and mentoring other students had taught her that she liked to take care of people. She had realized that her graduate degree should be in counseling and the GSE’s Marital, Couple, and Family Counseling specialization was a perfect fit for her.

For many people, it takes a very long time to get a visa. Mania’s family worked for nine years—most of her childhood—to get permission to come to America. They would be sponsored by an uncle who was already in the United States. By the time everything was in place, Mania was 17 years old. The year was 2007, and at that time Government regulations would not allow her 21-year-old sister Mona to leave at all, but the family was determined to find a way. Mona would stay behind and work, helping to care for elderly grandparents, but continued to press her case.

In February 2017, after numerous trips to the US Embassy in Turkey, Mona acquired her visa and was finally ready to legally join her sister and family in the United States. She bought a plane ticket, packed her clothes, and arrived at the airport. Suddenly, officials wouldn’t let her board the plane. Mona was caught in President Donald Trump’s first executive order that banned all immigration from six Muslim-dominant countries.

From that day on, Mania, in a panic, was on the phone with her sister every day, at opposite times of the day, in Portland and in Tehran—all while continuing her studies and her work at Lutheran Family Services. “That was the first time in my life that I literally gave up,” she said. “I’m done. I felt weak.” Now when someone says, ‘I’m depressed,’ Mania, who normally has an effervescent personality, literally knows what it feels like.

Mania was trying to work with a US government system that she found to be illogical. Her sister had a valid visa and had gone through all the right channels. Mona had spent three weeks in hotels in Turkey waiting for the paperwork. Her time-frame to travel and her money were running out. “We don’t have money, we aren’t wealthy, so all those trips to Turkey were expensive,” said Mania, who, like most PSU students, is on a tight budget.

But the sisters were not alone in this crisis. Mania’s friends at PSU started a crowdsourcing website. Local media picked up the story and reported on the family’s situation. The coverage helped, and the PSU community raised nearly $4,000 to buy additional plane tickets as Mania tried to find available flights to various American cities. Meanwhile, a judge in Seattle temporarily stopped the federal executive order. This was the opportunity for Mona to board a plane—if she acted quickly. She was soon on her way to San Francisco to join her mother, whom she hadn’t seen in 10 years. Finally, the family would be reunited.

Mania and her fellow counselor education students spend over 600 hours in practicums and internships, working in the counseling field. Mania’s clients are also immigrants and refugees who are directly affected by these same issues. Her personal family crisis, while unfortunate, provided Mania with true insight into what her clients are experiencing every day.

Does Mania miss Iran? Of course, she said. “But I always felt like I could do more somewhere else. I always felt like I wanted to explore things and America would provide more opportunities for me than Iran.”

“Mania is a truly wonderful person,” said Professor Susan Halverson-Westerberg. “Her sense of humor, her warmth, and her optimism made her a class favorite. I am so proud of her. She held it together when her internship, counseling responsibilities, and her concern for her sister intersected. She will make a great counselor.”

Mania says she enjoys the interaction with students when she works with them. “I like the look on their face when I am able to help, and it warms my heart,” she said.

Mania graduates this year with a master’s degree and a specialization in Marital, Couple, and Family Counseling. She will move her mother and sister to Portland soon and plans to take care of them, creating her own new multigenerational home.

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