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“ASU has the spirit of America in it,” says Khashayar “Shay” Khatiri, a recent graduate of the School of Politics and Global Studies and the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies in Arizona State University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Born and raised in Gorgan, Iran, Khatiri realized he resonated with American ideals after hearing President George W. Bush speak in the aftermath of 9/11. This revelation set him on a path to fight for freedom and create a better society.
“A lightbulb went on over my head,” Khatiri said. “Being an American means that you adhere to the values of liberal democracy and freedom. I realized that I was, in fact, an American in my heart.”
Khatiri says that his college years in Iran were filled with depression and recklessness. In response to allegations of a rigged presidential election in 2009, he was one of the millions of Iranians who protested for freedom.
“I did not appreciate covering my face, including during my participation in demonstrations on campus, where I was in the front line,” Khatiri said. “Because of my depression — which was a result of the contradiction of the values I adhered to and the society I lived in — I was not the best student, either. Because I was a campus troublemaker more concerned with inspiring demonstrations than studying, the university expelled me.”
This setback, however, did not deter Khatiri from pursuing success. After leaving Iran to study dentistry in Budapest, Hungary, he was told he would never be a dentist because he loved politics too much. Taking the advice to study politics into serious consideration, Khatiri soon began the process of gaining admission to an American college.
“I loved the United States,” Khatiri said. “And I had to live there.”
Despite his trouble with schooling in the past, Khatiri was accepted to Arizona State University and says it has given him more than he could ever return in a lifetime.
“There are kids like me who have failed way too many times to be trusted with another opportunity again, but ASU still would trust that nobody’s beyond redemption,” Khatiri said. “That’s the American way. Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, George W. Bush, Mark Zuckerberg, George C. Marshall, James Mattis, [etc.] are all examples of people who failed in life when they were young, but who overcame those failures to reach the highest.”
Khatiri studied political science and history and was heavily involved with the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, where he says he learned what it means to be a citizen.
“I was fascinated with politics,” Khatiri said. “I realized that to succeed, one must study what [one] loves, and I loved politics. Later, I met former National Security Adviser Steve Hadley and he told me that his greatest regret was not knowing more history than he did, so I took his advice and added history as a second major.”
Khatiri’s interest in politics and the fight for liberty continued during his years at ASU. He was a member and treasurer of ASU College Republicans, where he assisted in Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, a man Khatiri says he greatly admires. Khatiri also founded the ASU chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society and the AEI Executive Council at ASU, both of which have won multiple awards and competitions nationwide.
"In addition, I completed fellowships on foreign, domestic and economic policies, and intellectual thought at Hertog Foundation, American Enterprise Institute and Hoover Institution,” Khatiri said. “I also engaged with the National Union for Democracy in Iran, an opposition group to the regime in Iran, and my activities led to being blacklisted. Currently, I’m seeking political asylum.”
Khatiri says he learned a lot about mankind during his involvement at ASU and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, which has helped him in thinking about his life and the choices he makes.
“The liberal arts’ purpose is to teach us how to think about humanity, to learn about human nature, to become critical thinkers and good writers, and to learn how to be good citizens,” Khatiri said. “The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, especially the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, has done just that.”
His commitment to academic and political involvement is something he plans to continue after graduation, as he hopes to make a difference in the country he has come to know and love.
“I want to complete my graduate studies and eventually earn a PhD in strategic studies from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, earn American citizenship and do my part as a policy expert, whether from inside the government or in a think tank,” Khatiri said.
“America is the greatest country on Earth and a miracle. If I want a better world, if I want to give hope to that teenager in tyranny in a Third World country like I used to be, or that kid growing up in poverty in America ... I need to do my part to make America stronger and better. A better and stronger America means a better world.”
Reflecting on his experiences in the United States and ASU, Khatiri says he knew he found his home the first time he walked on campus.
“ASU has been challenging in a productive way; resourceful and kind,” Khatiri said. “The first time I felt that I had a home outside my family was when I walked on ASU’s campus, and that feeling always kept growing.”