Class of 2014
On September 12, 2001, just a day after the devastating terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Nasser Siadat witnessed a tragedy much closer to home. In the parking lot of a Walmart, two men ruthlessly beat his father just because of his foreign-sounding name and Persian looks. The men told him to "go back where he came from." "He was covered in blood," Nasser says. "It was quite scarring. It was the first time that I realized that these things — my name, my religion — meant something in the world."
He turned his anger into a force for uniting people and moved toward public advocacy. After spending time in lectures and discussions, he realized that the way to get people to actually engage with each other was to do something memorable. Enter "the world's largest water balloon fight," an idea that Nasser came up with as a way to have fun and actually get people talking. The Fight to Unite was the first major project of Nasser's own nonprofit organization, One City Indy, in his hometown of Indianapolis. The mission statement was to "combat the racial, ethnic, religious, and social divisions in the community of Indianapolis."
After months of preparation and a "painstaking week" filling up the water balloons, 65,000 people began one of the greatest water balloon fights in history at a stadium rented out especially for the cause. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, gave the keynote speech. "We had all the communities out there," Nasser says. "There were Hispanics, Africans, Indians. It was great to see the youth come out and interact."
The grassroots experience meshed well with his international experience when he represented the US Department of State in Bulgaria.
A culminating experience was a two-month internship with the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. "The struggle and challenges he faced were a bit discouraging, but he made it," says Nasser, who himself is considering a career in public service.
Four years after the attack on his father, Nasser made his first visit to his father's ancestral homeland of Iran. His experiences there with Iranian culture helped him realize that he was in between three worlds: his father's Persian roots, his mother's Catholicism, and his own embrace of the Sunni branch of Islam.
"I have realized that if there is a way to have a social interaction unite one city like the water balloon fight, then there must be a way to do it on the bigger, global stage," he says. "That is, by all means, what I want to do. We have more similarities than we have differences."