Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, a civilian aircraft, was shot down on January 8, 2020, shortly after take-off in Tehran. All 176 passengers and crew members on board perished.
Among the 57 Canadians aboard the doomed flight were eight University of Toronto students. Zeynab Asadi Lari was a fourth-year student, completing a Bachelor’s of Science degree with double majors in biology and anthropology at UTM. Her brother, Mohammad Asadi Lari, was a graduate student at the Faculty of Medicine at the St. George campus. The two had been returning to Canada for the winter semester after visiting family in Iran.
Zeynab Asadi Lari was an active and influential member of the UTM community. She was the president of the UTM branch of the STEM Fellowship, a “youth-run Canadian non-profit organization that uses mentorship and experiential learning to equip the next generation of change-makers with indispensable skills in data science and scholarly writing.” She was admired and well-respected by peers and faculty. Her goal was to pursue medicine following her undergraduate degree, an aspiration reflected in her profound empathy towards others.
In particular, Lari was known for being vocal about eradicating the stigma surrounding mental health. Professor Fiona Rawle, associate professor in the Department of Undergraduate Biology at UTM, remembers an incident which demonstrated Lari championing the cause.
“I once found Zeynab comforting a distraught student who kept apologizing for crying. In response, Zeynab said, ‘Don’t say sorry — you are sad and you are crying, and that is okay.’”
Lari’s friends often credited her as being a shoulder to cry on, a moral support, as someone who always had a kind word to say and an attentive ear. She had a “vibe” that often drew people towards her and she was often “the life of the party.”
Saleha Zubair, a close friend of Lari’s, explains, “She was uncomplicated, kind, [and] generous. She was the laughter in every conversation, the hope in all hopelessness. She held the world in gentle hands.”
Another friend of Lari’s, Hamna Zubair, reiterates, “Zeynab was that friend. She never let you down.”
Despite Lari’s kind heart and her acceptance of others, she was very hard on herself and always strove to be better. “[Lari] was fiercely competitive with herself but immensely collaborative with others,” says Rawle. Although Lari held herself accountable to demanding and rigorous standards, she did not compete with her peers and instead chose to learn, share, and grow together.
“We shared everything together. ‘Together’ was her key word. She wanted to take classes together, hang out together, study together,” remembers Fatima Sahibzada, a friend of Lari’s.
“Everything she wanted to do, she wanted to do together. Every opportunity she came across, she shared with us,” agrees Zubair.
Lari was passionate about her academics and was an eager learner. Dr. Jade Atallah, assistant professor in the Department of Undergraduate Biology at UTM, recalls, “She would rub her hands when she spoke to me. I used to think she was nervous. I quickly learned it was because she was excited.”
Shortly before beginning her journey back to Canada, Sahibzada spoke with Lari briefly:
“My last conversation with Zeynab was when she was getting on the plane on Tuesday evening. We talked about […] how excited we both were to have another wonderful session full of great laughs. She told me she missed me and couldn’t wait to see me.”
News of the crash jarred Lari’s friends and family. Her memorial was held on Thursday, January 17, 2020 in Maanjiwe Nendamowinan and was attended by faculty and students from across campus. Students stopped by to honour her memory and remember her as a beloved member of UTM’s community.
Zubair says, “We used to save each other seats at every table. Every table we sit at now has an empty seat for her. And we will always have a seat reserved in our hearts.”