In 1992, Jason Rezaian joined the Marin Academy community as a junior year transfer into the Class of 1994. Jason made an immediate impact at MA, joining the baseball and basketball teams, the newspaper, and serving as the Student Senate President his senior year. As an alum, Jason has been unfailingly committed to MA as a Class Rep and an educator of our current students, coming back to campus to share his experiences in the classroom and at the Conference on Democracy.
Jason is a Washington Post correspondent based in Tehran, Iran, where he serves as their local bureau chief. As a dual American / Iranian citizen, Jason found that this profession was an ideal way to share his love of Iran with the American people. He sought to illustrate the beautiful, human, and delicious side of Iran through his stories while providing honest and fair coverage of the issues.
On July 22, 2014, after weeks of being followed, Jason and his Iranian wife Yeganeh Salehi (fondly known as “Yegi”), also a journalist and the Iran correspondent for the UAE’s The National, were arrested and their home ransacked. Yegi was released on bail in October, but as of today Jason has been held longer than any previous Western journalist in Iran. Throughout this time he has been held in solitary confinement and suffered through many untreated health issues. This past Saturday, December 6, Jason’s 137th day in custody, the Iranian government filed unspecified charges against him, and yet, in what Secretary of State John Kerry calls a “clear violation of Iran’s own laws and international norms,” Jason still has not been allowed to have a lawyer defend him.
Because of the sensitive nature of this terrible situation, there has been little that our government, Jason’s employer, and his family and friends have been able to do. We do know, however, that many former Iranian prisoners of conscience, including journalists, all say that public awareness helped secure their release — please help spread the word by sharing this post and any of the articles in the right-hand column, and sign the change.org petition requesting Jason’s immediate release.
Continue reading below for accounts of Jason’s MA days and his impact on members of our Marin Academy community and share your memories and stories in the comments.
Coulter Boeschen, Class of 1994
Travis Brownley, Head of School
Ryan Hall, Class of 1994
Eric Facas, Class of 1994
Peter Lang, Class of 1994
Beau Leonhart, Former Math Teacher & Vision Quest Leader
Walker Livingston, Class of 2012
Olivia Lloyd, Class of 2012
Bill Meyer, History Department Chair & Conference on Democracy Co-Chair
Betsy Muir, History Teacher
David Noble, Class of 1994
John Petrovsky, Spanish Teacher
Ali Rezaian, Class of 1989 & Jason’s Brother
Bruce Shaw, Former Headmaster
Paul Simpson, Class of 1997
Mark Stefanski, Science Teacher
Joey Wolff, Class of 1993
Timi Workman, Former English & Journalism Teacher
I am one of many people who consider Jason Rezaian one of my closest friends. I can say without hesitation that he is the most well-liked person I have ever known. People he just met said “I like you, Jason!” so often that it became an inside joke between us. I would throw my arms up in mock exasperation every time I was around to witness it (awkward for the new acquaintance, but Jason would put them back at ease). But he doesn’t just coast along on sheer charisma, he has deep friendships with people all over the world – he cares, he stays in touch, he’s truly interested in how people are doing and what they’re passionate about. I have no doubt his captors, at least those that have regular contact with him, like him or instinctively know they should like him. In our frequent conversations together, long before and after he became a journalist, we usually turned to the topic of world events. The misunderstanding of the complexity and nature of Iran in the Western mind, and the effects that had on geopolitics, concerned him; this is why he has used his considerable skills as a journalist to illuminate the culture and people of Iran, as well as the political landscape. The sad and frustrating irony of his current incarceration is lost on no one familiar with Jason and his work. Not only is a voice of understanding being silenced, but his continued detention is eroding the nascent dialogue and good will between two great cultures that Jason has been working so hard to foster.
Our hearts go out to Jason and his family. Jason has long been a valued and contributing member of our community. He has returned on several occasions to share his work with MA students who have found him to be an inspiring teacher. I personally enjoyed getting to know him during his last visit to campus in 2012 when I had the chance to interview him for my blog, Heads and Tales. During this interview we talked about how he ended up in Iran, his work as a journalist, and how MA helped to shape who he is today. We all hope for his safe and swift return. I look forward to welcoming him back to campus in the near future.
Like everyone else that knows Jason I have been deeply concerned since learning of his arrest back in July. Rather than thinking about the incredibly difficult situation he must be facing on a daily basis I have been trying to focus on the good memories we’ve shared together, starting from our time at Marin Academy. Endless burrito runs to High Tech, making up pool games in the backyard, ordering for each other at restaurants and thinking that would help me gain weight and him lose weight, road trips, baseball games (sometimes on a school day), hoops, and hikes that all too often involved water obstacles just to name a few.
In more recently years I feel lucky to have spent so much quality time together despite living on opposite sides of the world. Business trips to Southeast Asia, three days with Jason and his mom Mary in Istanbul and getting to know his wife Yeganeh in Marin last October. Over the last 5 months I hope Jason has been able to draw on these memories and others like them with fellow MA classmates to get through the challenges he’s facing. I’m hopeful that he’ll be reunited with us soon so that we can make more memories together.
Typically I send my writing to Jason and he does some editing and reworks the piece, so I apologize in advance.
The last time I crossed paths with Jason I had a 12-hour layover in Dubai and he had extended a side trip a couple of days so we could catch up in person. When I did arrive I was frustrated that my plane had been delayed, I was confused because the taxi I was traveling in said ‘Ladies Taxi Only’, and I was racing to my hotel to drop my bags off before meeting up with him.
When I attempted to check in the man at the front desk asked in a relieved tone, “Are you Ryan? … I’m not allowed to give you a key to your room until you call this number. Jason wants to speak to you right now.”
Jason gave me some confusing directions to his favorite restaurant and soon Yeganeh, Jason and I were swapping stories over a terrific meal. I relayed all the lively happenings of his friends raising kids in Marin, the joys of Thursday night ‘old man basketball’ and then I told him he would be picking up the bill and lending me some cab money because I left my wallet at the hotel. The night ended too quickly.
I miss my travel buddy and long to see the whites of his eyes, plus I’m quite certain I owe him a meal.
Jason and I have been friends since about five minutes into the “transfer outing” at the beginning of our junior year. Our first laugh was over an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 wherein Donna says, “Well, at least we’re not as bad as Marin…” It was minor gymnastics for him to verbalize the absurdity of our new situation while expressing an appreciation for its advantages.
Jason connects with people easily. He’s disarming, thoughtful, and appreciates nuance. He reads people well and conveys understanding with humor and insight. He doesn’t miss anything and defends everything’s significance, but for him our personal connections are most important. He had perspective in, and about, high school that baffled me then. His machinations have scaled dramatically since. I think he enjoys uncovering our oddities and exposing them as an unsurprising component of a bigger fabric.
I saw Jason the year before last. My wife Emily and I accompanied he and Yegi as he toured her around San Francisco. We went from a Presidio lookout of the Bridge, to LucasArts and an homage to Yoda, lunch was dim sum in Chinatown, then a walk past some of the Mission’s best graffiti and a coffee in the Castro before checking out the buffalo herd in Golden Gate Park and ending the day at Ocean Beach. We weren’t rushed. The day before we were at MA where Jason and Yegi spoke to a class about their experiences in, observations of, and love for, Iran. I miss my buddy.
One of my endearing memories of Jason comes from a 1995 New Year’s Alumni Vision Quest in Panamint Valley. The third night of the solo was on New Year’s Eve. Jason was an enthusiastic and supportive member of the small group. It was especially cold and clear that year, with temperatures well below freezing at night. When Jason got out to his solo spot, he struggled to set up his tent. Perhaps he had the wrong set of poles. No matter what he did over the three days and nights he could not get his tent propped up. Each day he tried again to make it work and each night he simply slipped into his tent and wrapped it around himself like a burrito.
Some people would have come back to base camp feeling defeated and frustrated. Jason returned the fourth morning perhaps a bit frustrated but definitely resilient and amused about his situation. He got along just fine even though he had a major technical failure. He was humble, proud, and thoroughly engaging when he told us the wonderful story of his solo.
This part of Jason’s story has become part of our Vision Quest lore when we prepare students to go out on their solos. We tell them the story of the young man who went out and could not set up his tent. We describe the image of Jason wrapped up in his sleeping bag inside his flat tent. He kept himself warm enough in his unconventional way. His response still serves as an example of how one may be called upon to get creative when his solo does not unfold exactly as imagined.
When I think of Jason detained for so long in Iran, I hope he can sometimes close his eyes and imagine himself surrounded not by confining walls, but by the open vistas of the Panamint Valley. I hope he can imagine his spirit expanding and freely flowing with the freedom of the ravens who visited him almost 20 years ago.
I remember Jason coming to speak at MA in March of 2012. His candid, often funny comments about life in Iran really lit up the class. I remember him being so positive about the people of the country and the beauty of the terrain. He loved that “you could go skiing in the mountains and by the end of the day be SCUBA diving in the Caspian Sea.” Jason is an extremely well-spoken and well-written journalist. I have been following his story closely and I hope to see him return home safely soon.
Jason visited our International Relations class in 2012. I actually still have a write up I did for Betsy’s class after the presentation. It was clear during that visit that he is incredibly driven. One of the first things I wrote down from that day is what Jason said about the nature of being a journalist in Iran: “The reception I get as an American in Iran is the best in the world.” He passionately defended Iranian culture. He sought to dispel the myths that we often believe because we do not have access to the stories of real Iranian civilians, and can only make judgments based on what we hear about the Iranian government.
Bill Meyer, History Department Chair & Conference on Democracy Co-Chair
I first met Jason when he agreed to participate in the Conference on Democracy several years ago. He is deeply dedicated to building a deeper understanding between Americans and Iranians, and every visit he has made to MA has helped our students understand that the conflict between these governments in no way reflects the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens, who have much more in common than one might think. He is one of the kindest and open people you could imagine, and he has been extraordinarily generous to MA with his time and energy over the years. Our thoughts are with him as we all hope for a quick release and return home.
Jason was so generous and excited to take time out of his short visit to the United States to speak to my International Relations students about his experiences in March 2012. Even though I didn’t know him as a student, I felt that instant MA connection with him when he and Yegenah came to campus. I’ve kept up with his work and have been looking forward to when he can come back and visit again.
I have many fond memories of Jason from his time at MA. One moment that sticks out for me took place during Jason’s candidacy speech for Student Senate president. While Jason was addressing the student body, he paused a few minutes into his speech. Jason nervously shifted back and forth in front of the microphone for what seemed like several minutes. When I approached Jason afterwards to ask what had happened, he replied that he didn’t want to be inauthentic and offer any promises he couldn’t keep. Jason became president of the Student Senate shortly after and proved to be a strong leader throughout our senior year. In my mind, I believe that Jason was elected not only for his caring and kind nature, but for his courage to be genuine.
As a junior and senior, Jason was a student of mine in Spanish III Honors and Spanish IV AP. I remember him very fondly as a good student who was particularly skilled in oral work, capable of getting serious ideas across clearly and concisely; not many students can joke in a second (or in his case, third language), but that was Jason. He wrote very good essays, often in a short period of time, a skill he no doubt uses as a journalist. As a student and Student Senate president, I saw his amazing “people skills” as he listened and talked to everyone on campus: students young and old, faculty, administration, and staff. It was clear that he had a great affection for MA because he has often returned to campus, and several times I had the good fortune to catch up with him.
Another interest that Jason and I share is film and film festivals. A few years after his MA graduation, he took me for lunch so that we could discuss his work as the coordinator and second in command for the first annual Tiburon International Film Festival. He knew that I was co-director of the Latino Film Festival of San Francisco, and I shared ideas with him about fundraising, film selection, creating a catalog, and publicity. He demonstrated a good business and artistic sense, managed to show some films in Spanish, and created a fine festival that I enjoyed.
I have followed Jason’s career in journalism since his byline first appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle. I have faithfully read his articles, which make astute observations about Iran and relations between our two countries, not at all disparaging about either nation. I am shocked and upset by his current situation and my heart goes out to him and his family.
It’s been 25 years since I graduated and 20 for Jason, but as I think about our experiences at Marin Academy the first thing I think about is the unique community that you join when you attend, teach, or work at MA. I’ve had the good fortune to do all three.
Marin Academy has become a part of who we are. Those friends Jason and I made at Marin Academy are still very much a part of our daily lives, and they were some of the first people to reach out to help Jason and have stayed connected and engaged these past 4 months.
Everyone in my family appreciates the support we have received from the MA community over the past 140 days. Thank you for your ongoing efforts to secure Jason’s speedy release to he can return home to Marin.
Jason arrived at MA warm and friendly, a people person, but engaged in the kind of deeper, wider issues that would compel his life going forward. My daughter, who was in his class at MCDS, is his Facebook friend and, together, we talk about the important work he is doing. He loves Iran and wants people to see the warm, human side of the country that the hostage crisis of decades ago had obscured. He attaches his own humanitarian instincts with the ones that MA cared about and that are expressed in the mission statement: “. . . we embrace our responsibility to promote, within and beyond the boundaries of Marin Academy, the values inherent in a democratic society.” While grieving for his situation, we can be proud of Jason as a person whose values are ones that matter.
Jason was a great leader and mentor to myself and others while we were at MA. I was a freshman during his senior year and Jason quickly noticed that I was a “fish out of water” and in a completely foreign world. He went out of his way to welcome me and other freshman into his inner circle of friends. That circle of friends is still an important part of my life. Jason is always in a good mood and has an interesting story to share. He is and always will be a great ambassador for MA and what it stands for.
My strongest connection with Jason is through MA’s Conference on Democracy. As co-chair of the conference with Bill Meyer, I worked closely with Jason on a couple of sessions that focused on life in Iran and US/Iranian relations. Jason was passionate about facilitating a deeper understanding of Iranian culture, and he was extremely generous with his time in speaking with the school community directly and putting us in touch with other experts in the field. He was particularly helpful in recruiting a young Iranian filmmaker for a 2007 session focused on Youth Voices in Iran. He also put us in touch with fellow Iranian journalist and blogger, Omid Memarian, who had been imprisoned by Iranian authorities in 2004, and at the time was a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley.
As an MA alum, Jason has been extraordinarily thoughtful, kind and generous with his time and efforts to help educate the MA community. Without question, he wants to lend a hand in bringing about deeper cross-cultural understanding and to help to make the world a better place.
The first time I met Jason was at MA. I was standing in the Circle telling some friends about an obscure commercial I had seen that I thought was funny. As I told my friends about the commercial, I had doubts they would think it was as funny as I thought it was. Unbeknownst to me, Jason walked by while I was telling the story and had stopped to listen. Just as I was about to deliver the punchline (so to speak), a voice from behind me delivered it for me. It was Jason. I turned around to see who the voice came from, and there was Jason laughing hysterically. Right there, we became friends and have been ever since. It was a connection created around humor and laughter. One of the many good things I learned about Jason as I got to know him was that he loves humor, has a great sense of it, and is one of the best people to laugh with. I miss Jason, I miss laughing with him and can’t wait to do it again soon!
I was fortunate to have Jason as a student in my journalism and English classes when he was at Marin Academy. He was the kind of student who always managed to bring joy into the classroom in some way or another, through his wonderful smile or great sense of humor. He always made us laugh, and even now when I think of him, I can’t help but smile myself. I remember the way he sat in the classroom before we started; relaxed, leaning back in his chair, leg crossed, and playing with his pencil as he spoke with his friends and made them smile. But then, as soon as we began our discussions, he would lean forward with his elbows on the table, and be fully engaged, sharing his opinions, pointing out ironies, and asking thoughtful questions until he understood the material. He was honest and sincere. Even if he disagreed with something someone else said, he was respectful to them. I could tell he had the respect of his classmates because of his ability to accept them for who they were without judgement. I remember clearly one day he was absent from class, and when one of his friends mentioned Jason wouldn’t be attending that day, it was as if some of the energy went out of the room as the other kids sighed. He added a touch of lightness to our day and we all enjoyed having him around.
When the students helped edit each other’s writing, his comments to his peers were kind and encouraging, even when he was suggesting that they do more research to make their work stronger and less biased. He always wanted to know what he could do to make his own writing as strong as possible, and listened to criticism well, incorporating the suggestions in his rewritten essays.
Jason was a generous and kind student. He was enthusiastic about the things he loved, including his heritage, family, food, friends. He was so much fun to be around, and is one of the reasons I enjoyed teaching at Marin Academy.