On Friday, October 12, 2018, One Planet Group Founder and CEO, Payam Zamani, was honored with the Award of Distinction from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of California, Davis at the 30th Annual College Celebration.  Below is a full transcript of his acceptance speech: 

I’m truly humbled and honored to receive this award from UC Davis—and I’m enormously grateful to this University, and to the United States, for giving me the higher education my birth country denied me. For almost 40 years now the Islamic regime of Iran has denied its Baha’i citizens—the followers of a peaceful religion—their basic human rights, including the right to an education.

My challenges growing up as a Baha'i in Iran represent just a small example of the kinds of challenges we as a species now face all over the world: dealing with fanaticism of all kinds; the plight of women and girls in many countries of the world; climate change; the catastrophic failure of partisan politics here at home and in many other countries, the clear and present dangers of corruption and moral laxity, along with gross unfairness of all kinds, including racial and economic injustice.

In my humble opinion, in order to make this lonely planet of ours a better place, we all need to become activists in our own ways. Complacency is not an option – individual activism is the key to a brighter future. It simply is not enough to get a good education, a good job and live a quiet life. We need to care about the betterment of those we share this planet with. We need to care and we each need to do our part to address the injustices in this world and proactively choose to become a source of good—and my friends, that will make us happier human beings as well.  Because when we go from how I make me happy, to how I make others happy, we will start living into our happiest state as well.

The Universal House of Justice, the global governing body of the Baha’i Faith, states:

The welfare of any segment of humanity is inextricably bound up with the welfare of the whole. Humanity’s collective life suffers when any one group thinks of its own well-being in isolation from that of its neighbors … time and again, avarice and self-interest prevail at the expense of the common good … But it need not be so. However much such conditions are the outcome of history, they do not have to define the future …

My dear friends, this earthly life will pass us all by in the blink of an eye. While we’re here in this phase of life, we all have important questions to answer: how much of it will be about me, and how much of it will be about the greater good and the betterment of the world? What legacy will I leave behind? Will my children and their children remember me as someone consumed with my own interests, or as someone altruistically devoted to the interests of the whole planet?

We live in the United States of America, and this nation has a history of standing up for the good. As a 16-year-old refugee, I embarked upon a seemingly impossible and incredibly lonely journey from Iran, through rugged mountains and deserts to Pakistan. There I spent a year as a refugee before finally getting admittance to this country. Because America was interested in accepting the tired, the poor and the masses yearning to breathe free and more important than anything else a country that reignited the flame of hope in the hearts of the people.

This journey helped me experience firsthand the goodness of this nation and her people. After receiving asylum from the U.S. embassy, a New York based Catholic charity paid for my flight from Pakistan to San Francisco in 1988, and that helped me recognize, firsthand, what altruism, caring and love really meant. Now, as an American, I hope every one of us will continue that tradition of seeing no one as a stranger. I hope we will remain activists for good, as long as there are people in our country and elsewhere in the world who continue to suffer.

Thank you again to everyone at UC Davis. This will always be a home to me.