As the Class of 2022 graduates, they leave their own worlds within the University behind. One of these worlds is the University’s Persian Culture Society. The student group celebrates Iranian culture, showcasing Iranian arts, music, dance, and fashion.
PCS offers a community for students with strong ties to Iranian culture, while for other students, the club is an opportunity to reconnect with their Iranian heritage. Darian Kaviani, PCS president and fourth-year College student, is the son of Iranian immigrants.
“Both my parents came to the U.S. after the revolution,” Kaviani said. “And when they came, obviously neither of them really spoke much English, so their community became all the Iranians around them.”
Ariana Gueranmayeh, fourth-year Education student and vice president of PCS, shares a similar story.
“My grandparents immigrated here after the Iranian revolution that happened in 1979 that overthrew the Shah,” Gueranmayeh said. “So that was when my grandparents came with my mom and her three siblings, sort of all of them came here to the U.S. just to seek political asylum after what was happening in Iran. So they essentially started their lives here.”
PCS members share a variety of different connections to Iranian culture. Multiple club members were born and raised in Iran, while others are further removed from Iranian culture.
“That's a cool dynamic to experience having these people who are Iranian, but don't really speak, or don't know, the culture,” Kaviani said. “People like Ariana and I who grew up here, and are kind of in between two worlds.”
One of the club’s largest events is the annual Nowruz celebration of the Iranian New Year. More than three hundred people attended this year's celebration in April. The event was vibrant and lively, featuring Iranian music, dance, food and fashion. Parents and grandparents of many students attended.
Shirin Nariman came to the event to support her daughter, third-year Commerce student Neikey Panah.
“I'm Iranian, I moved here 36 years ago,” Nariman said. “I tried to raise my kids to learn about their Persian background, history and culture.”
Nariman immigrated to the U.S. in 1986 and said she decided to leave because of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The popular uprising led to the overthrow of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the establishment of an Islamic Republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
“I was anti-Iranian regime,” Nariman said. “So I was in prison for two years. And then when I was released, I decided to leave Iran — Iran wasn't safe for me anymore.”
Nariman attended George Mason University, where she met her husband in an Iranian student’s group. Today, Nariman is happy that her daughter Neikey has embraced Iranian culture through PCS.
“Now she's very involved with the Persian club, which, for us, is fantastic, because we never expected that,” Nariman said. “But U.Va. gave her that opportunity to explore her own culture with other kids that come from the same background.”
One of the ways that PCS members explore this heritage is through the Iranian language of Farsi, which many students grow up speaking Farsi at home.
“Being bilingual, coming to U.Va. and meeting other Persians who could speak Farsi … it was just kind of funny,” Gueranmayeh said. “I remember my first few years we would just toss it into conversations … just poking fun … that language aspect adds another sense of community.”
Many PCS students who didn’t grow up speaking Farsi take courses in the language offered by the University. Mashad Mohit, lecturer of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, was honored at the Nowruz event, and has been especially important to the University’s Farsi program.
“So we have a number of people who are just learning Farsi or learning about the traditions,” Kaviani said. “And they're really passionate about it, which was really exciting to see the new kids kind of getting into it just as much as we did.”
PCS also preserves Iranian culture musically. Kaviani teaches club members how to play the Daf, a traditional Iranian drum.
“When I came to college I had never picked up the drum,” Kaviani said. “And we had one kid who was really good at it and he decided to start teaching the club how to play this drum and here we are like two generations later, the person who originally brought it to the club has been gone for a little bit but we’re still teaching based on what he’s taught us.”
Over the years, PCS has developed its own history and sense of belonging at the University. Gueranmayeh says the Iranian clothes she wears during PCS performances have helped foster a feeling of shared tradition between students.
“The girls wearing the red skirts and black shirts — there have been generations of PCS members who have worn that,” Gueranmayeh said. “It's kind of fun to see things passed down.”
Like many groups on Grounds, PCS has struggled to keep club traditions alive through the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s event was the club's first in-person celebration of Nowruz since the spring of 2019, meaning that fourth-year students were the only members who had previously participated. This placed an extra responsibility on fourth-year students to pass on Nowruz traditions before graduating.
“This was one of our hardest years ever, having all the new students who have never been to Nowruz before,” Kaviani said.
However, Kaviani and Gueranmayeh remain hopeful. With a successful Nowruz event, PCS is opening a new chapter. While Kaviani and Gaueranmayeh are graduating this spring, they have both left a lasting legacy on future generations of PCS students.
“Hopefully we can share our knowledge with them,” Kaviani said. “So they can continue doing something like this down the road … and grow the club and take it to places that Ariana and I haven't even thought of yet.”