As freelance journalist Roxana Saberi ‘97 stepped off the plane May 30 in Fargo, N.D., she was overwhelmed by the cheering crowd and the faces of many close friends.
It was yet another sign of the outpouring of support she’d received since the world learned of her arrest in Tehran, Iran, four months earlier.
A band of Concordia faculty and students played “America the Beautiful” and Saberi started crying.
It was a long road to this moment for many, including CSTA assistant professor Cindy Larson-Casselton, a close friend of Saberi’s. She frightened her two daughters with her screams of joy upon learning of Saberi’s release.
“I came running down the stairs and said, ‘It’s news, you guys, and it’s good news,’” she said. “‘Roxana has been freed!’”
The news of the appeal and her release came just four days after Saberi ended a two-week hunger strike protesting her imprisonment. Journalism associate professor Cathy McMullen said the news felt like “the weight of the world had been lifted from our shoulders.”
McMullen was one of the first to greet Saberi as she exited Fargo’s airport security. She hugged her tightly and later thanked Saberi publicly for how her integrity and strength affected those following her story.
“You said one of the reasons you enjoy journalism is it allows you to teach,” McMullen said. “Thank you, Roxana, for all you have taught my students and all of us. You have shown what it is to be brave, to have heart and be strong, and to follow one’s conscience even when doing so brings peril.”
Saberi, a communication and French major, moved to Iran six years ago to learn more about the country where her father was born. The dual American and Iranian national worked as a freelance journalist for major news organizations, including National Public Radio, ABC News and the British Broadcasting Corp. After her press credentials were revoked last year, she stayed in Iran to write a book about her experiences in a country where she found most people treated her kindly and accepted her as one of their own.
She said that book will now include information about her Jan. 31 arrest, when she was first taken to Evin Prison. Ten days later, Saberi was allowed to contact her parents in Fargo, but she told NPR she was forced to lie about where she was and why she was arrested. Saberi said she was pressured into a false confession of spying, which she later recanted.
Organizations, communities and individuals quickly rallied to her support. On campus, the CSTA and English departments teamed up in April to purchase and sell 200 Free Roxana yellow ribbon pins. Journalism students hosted an information table in the Knutson Campus Center to increase awareness of Saberi’s situation, raise money for her family’s travel and legal expenses, and collect signatures asking for her release.
Sara Grasmon ’10, Olivia, Minn., is inspired by Saberi’s courage. “She’s a role model for all of us who are planning to become journalists,” she said.
The support continued throughout the community, with a May vigil on the Veterans Memorial Bridge attended by government officials including North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven. Neighbors of Saberi’s parents tied yellow ribbons on trees in north Fargo. Yellow ribbons also decorated the trees on Concordia’s campus for Commencement. Invited last fall, Saberi was the intended speaker for the ceremony. Her mentor, broadcast journalist Margo Melnicove, spoke in her place to a full auditorium.
As Saberi addressed a smaller crowd at Fargo’s airport, CSTA chair Dr. Don Rice took note of other Concordia professors, high school teachers, longtime neighbors and, of course, her overjoyed parents. It really was a homecoming on so many levels, he said.
“I felt that it was a good homecoming for everyone,” he said. “There was a sense of family.“
That sense of family and community is what Saberi said she needed while in prison.
“I understood the value of good friends and good community like you,” Saberi said. “Thank you for teaching me I was never alone and I never will be alone.”
Story: Amanda J. Peterson / Photos: The Associated Press/Sheldon Green/Jay Pickthorn
Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Summer 2009 Concordia Magazine. Saberi received the 2014 Sent Forth Award from Concordia's National Alumni Board.