STOCKTON, Calif. — Stockton native Mana Shooshtari will receive her diploma from San Jose State University in just one more week. For the 22-year-old Lincoln High School alumna, walking across the graduation stage will be one of the least nerve-wracking moments in the past few months.
"I never expected to speak at the United Nations at 22 years old," Shooshtari said while in between preparations for final exams Thursday. "I was always hoping I'd be able to go visit one day, of course, I was hoping it would be under much happier circumstances, but to be able to go there and to help bring attention to human rights — a crisis that is happening in Iran — was truly something I did not take lightly."
Throughout her high school years, Shooshtari found a passion for activism, becoming a familiar face in the community and behind podiums.
"I got my start in activism in the Stockton community primarily working on gun violence prevention, and feminism activism," said Shooshtari. "I was one of the walkout leaders for the Lincoln High School Gun Violence Walkout in 2018 and I also spoke at the March For our Lives protest in Stockton."
As an Iranian-American, Shooshtari has always found herself interested in current events in Iran. That interest met her passion for activism when news broke of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran's morality police in September, sparking global protest.
"After her death, the entire country has been engulfed in protests calling for the downfall of the Islamic Republic, and so seeing the way the Islamic Republic has responded to this revolution has been absolutely devastating," said Shooshtari. "I know a lot of people in the country, I know a lot of people who are fearing for their lives. They don't go to the grocery store because they don't know if the police are going to come and attack them."
Iran announced it had executed a prisoner convicted behind closed doors for a crime allegedly committed during ongoing protests in the nation, Thursday.
Seeing that nationwide fear in a country that means so much to her, Shooshtari knew she had to get involved.
"The first couple weeks of the revolution, I would literally go home every night and watch all the videos and the pictures that have come out from that day and just start sobbing," said Shooshtari. "For the past three months, I've been trying to utilize my platform by posting on social media, giving interviews to outlets and also speaking at the United Nations a couple of weeks ago about what the international community can do to step up and support the people of Iran in the revolution."
Through social media posts and her following as the communications director of the political action committee Grassroots Democrats HQ, Shooshtari caught the attention of the United Nations agency for gender equality and women's empowerment.
The agency invited her to address the United Nations during their commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
"When I was on the podium, the only thing I could think about is how many people have had their lives affected by this, whether it be politically, economically or however else they may have been affected by the Islamic Republic," said Shooshtari. "I think of all the artists, especially women who have never been able to display their talents. In Iran, a woman can't sing solo, a woman cannot dance in public, a woman cannot ride a bike. I think of all the futures that have been cut off and limited by the Islamic Republic."
Those futures being cut short in Iran were also top of mind when Shooshtari was interviewed about her advocacy efforts by Seventeen Magazine, the Washington Post, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
She says sharing social media posts and continuing to be a voice for protestors in Iran is the best way to make a change.
"Just posting on social media in Iran can land you in jail, it can land you to be followed around. They are risking everything just by posting," said Shooshtari. "The people in the diaspora who are posting will likely never be able to go back to Iran until the Islamic Republic falls, but I know that day is soon so that's why I know a lot of people are posting."
With graduation day a week away, passing her finals is top of mind for Shooshtari. But the focus, for now, remains on the future not only for herself but for the nearly 85 million people in Iran.
"To be able to talk about what was happening was something that I couldn't take lightly," said Shooshtari. "I knew that I had to do them justice and I hope I did."
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