Students share wisdom at Project Z discussion
By Min Kyung Jeon , The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Ramtin Rahmani ’16 and his mother could not relax until they were finally aboard a plane taking them out of Iran.
Fleeing their homeland because of the institutionalized religious persecution against people of the Bahai faith, they first landed in Vienna and later settled in Portland, Ore. Rahmani was one of three speakers who shared stories of hardship and passion last night at “The Unspoken Words of Dartmouth,” a Project Z conference aiming to inspire students to make small daily changes to help change the world for good, coordinator and cofounder Riley Ennis ’15 said.
The conference, which opened to an audience of about 60 students in Filene Auditorium, sprouted last year from discontinued TEDx Dartmouth events.
TEDx Dartmouth conference was not extended this year because coordinators could not find a Dartmouth professor or employee who had attended or spoken at an official TED conference, a requirement mandated by the international nonprofit behind TEDx conferences, Ennis said.
Project Z seeks to inspire people to make real-life impacts, whereas TEDx focuses primarily on ideas.
Project Z plans to continue in the future, but Ennis said he hopes to regain official TED authorization to hold a TEDx conference. Project Z would then integrate into the TEDx event.
Tuesday’s event featured a few speakers with targeted topics to promote closer interaction between the attendees and speakers.
Rahmani, who fled Iran when he was five, recounted the trials of living in the repressive country as a member of a religious minority.
His faith not only prevented him from enjoying ordinary Iranian civil rights, but also negatively affected his relationship with his paternal family members. His grandparents subscribed to Iran’s dominant faith, Islam, and refused to accept him and his parents for their different ideology.
Though he adjusted to life in America, he said his experiences in Iran still influence his outlook on life.
Rahmani urged the audience to empathize with people in unusual circumstances, including immigrants and refugees, rather than pity them.
Junaid Yakubu ’16, who grew up in Ghana, emphasized the importance of having the courage to explore new interests and tenacity to endure adversity.
After Yakubu’s father passed away when he was a child, his mother struggled to care for him and his siblings with scarce resources.
Her perseverance and dedication inspired Yakubu to step out of his “comfort zone” and try new things regardless of past failures or criticism, he said. His mother encouraged him to apply to colleges in America and he continues to be inspired by her even while he is at Dartmouth.
Billy Peters ’15, an Army veteran who transferred to Dartmouth last fall, spoke of his 15-month deployment in Iraq.
Though he enjoyed training with men he genuinely trusted, Peters wished to return home after witnessing a series of killings and accidents on the battlefield. Peters decided to apply to Dartmouth after a visit to campus in 2011. He quoted President Dwight D. Eisenhower to describe his impression of Dartmouth, saying it is “what a college should look like.”
“We kill ourselves over everything we are trying to accomplish here,” he said. “But this place, which keeps everyone up at night quite forcefully, is the place that has finally, at 26 years of age, made me happy,” he said.
Project Z hopes to inspire students to make subtle life changes and feel sympathy for others, Ennis said.
“We’re not just thinking about money, success or awards,” he said. “We’re looking at how the small, minute details of life help us to shape who we are and to become better global citizens.”
Next term, Project Z plans to hold a bigger conference with 10 to 15 speakers, Ennis said.