Best-selling author imparts words of wisdom during convocation address

“As a liberal arts major, I became a much better version of myself,” said Firoozeh Dumas during the 2012 convocation address to the class of 2016.

“There is no sure thing, but if you come out of college and you are an intelligent person, you can write, you can analyze and you can look at a situation and figure out what is going on, those are skills that you can use forever.”

Dumas — the best-selling author of “Funny in Farsi” — asserted her liberal arts education was her first step toward becoming a successful writer because it enabled her to pursue subjects she was passionate about and become a more well-rounded person.

Dumas’ convocation address was titled, “How I Combined Humor, Life Stories and a Liberal Arts Education to Create the Most Unusual (Yet Successful!) Career.” She was introduced by Willamette University Chaplain Karen Wood, College of Liberal Arts Dean Marlene Moore and President Stephen Thorsett.

In addition to emphasizing the value a liberal arts education had on her own life, Dumas entertained a captivated audience of parents, students and faculty with humorous and compelling anecdotes about her experiences as an Iranian immigrant in the United States.

She recalled the racism she felt after the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, when she suddenly went from being from a country no one recognized to being from a country everyone hated.

Years later, after the tragic Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Dumas was inspired to become a writer because she saw a critical need to show the human face of Middle Eastern immigrants like herself.

“I met so many adults who were truly afraid of people who were different from them, and I thought, ‘Wow, what would the world be like to be like that, to be afraid of someone because of their different religion or skin color or political party,’” Dumas said. “I really wanted my children to have a sense of our shared humanity… and so I joined a writers group.”

Dumas concluded her speech by advising parents and incoming students not to worry about what they will do with a liberal arts degree after they graduate, but instead to focus on maximizing the experience.

“I hope that in the next four years you absolutely take advantage of all the resources you have here. There are so many more resources than you can ever imagine,” Dumas said.

“Travel, read, and most importantly, talk to one another. Absolutely talk to one another. Everybody has a story, so make sure you exchange it.”

Dumas’ memoir, “Funny in Farsi,” was on the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times bestseller lists. Dumas was the first Middle Eastern woman ever to be considered for the prestigious Thurber Prize for American Humor, and she was awarded the Spirit of America Award in 2008 by the National Council of Social Studies.

The 2012 convocation was held in Smith auditorium on Aug. 24. Additional viewing was available in Hudson Hall on a projector.