To the Editor:
Your recent story about Reza Pahlavi ’83 (not ’82), son of the last Shah of Iran, brought back memories of being in class with him as a first-year. A bodyguard was stationed outside the classroom door and another on the front steps of the building. Sometimes they forgot to reduce the volume on their walkie-talkies and a loud, garbled transmission would disrupt class and remind some of us that danger loomed.
I remember at least once sitting in class wondering if some hit men were going to somehow spray the building with gunfire, lob in grenades or pull off a daring kidnapping. The professor who taught that class recently confessed similar concerns to me. He said that when he arrived to teach the class, he always scanned the room for an unattended briefcase.
Another classmate of mine, Frank Warendorf, mentioned Reza in our 25th Reunion Class Book. Frank wrote, “I also remember the international relations classes given by James MacGregor Burns with Reza Pahlavi sitting next to me drawing fighter bombers in his notebook. He could fly those things.” Frank’s comment aptly sums up the almost surreal nature of it all – here was a teenage exiled prince, who could deftly fly fighter planes, sitting in a political science class doodling, while the Iranian Revolution played out in his country. Most of the time, I think folks on campus suppressed any anxiety about it all by thinking how cool it was that “the Shah’s son” was at Williams.
This spring I have taken an interest in the Middle East like never before in my life. Despite Reza being on campus and the Iranian hostage crisis that spanned my first- and sophomore years, I learned very little about the Middle East. I must thank Professor Bernhardsson and the greater international student presence on campus for inspiring me all these years later.
I have never traveled outside of North America, so it is a challenge for me to empathize with other parts of the world. The 9/11 attack was horrific, but I rarely venture into a big city or travel by plane, so I never really felt all that much in danger. Little did I know 30 years ago the significance of my time in a class with Reza Pahlavi. It may be my best link to what it must feel like to live in the shadow of drone airplanes or to shop, travel, and study where suicide bombers roam.