Saberi said during her speech that compassion, faith and soul got her through the toughest days.
Roxana Saberi was finally able to give the commencement speech at her alma mater at the weekend, four years after plans for the Fargo native and journalist to speak at Concordia College were scrapped when she was imprisoned in Iran and accused of being a U.S. spy.
Saberi, a 1997 graduate of the college in Moorhead, Minn., told the crowd attending her speech Sunday that were it not for the support of the college, other friends and total strangers around the world, she might not have made it through her ordeal in Iran, according to The Forum and WDAY-TV. Saberi and the U.S. government maintained her innocence but she spent four months imprisoned on espionage charges before an appeals court suspended her eight-year sentence and she was released in May 2009.
Saberi said during her speech that compassion, faith and soul got her through the toughest days. She quoted psychiatrist, author and concentration camp survivor Viktor E. Frankl.
"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms — to choose one's attitude in any given circumstances," she said.
Saberi said that she was allowed to call her father, Reza Saberi, in Fargo, while she was imprisoned, and that he told her, "Roxana, just remember they can never hurt your soul."
The words stuck with Saberi, and she often whispered a Bible verse to herself as she was led, blindfolded, into the interrogation room — "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul."
In closing, Saberi told graduates that influencing the affairs of the world happens when their "souls touch other souls."
"This is what Concordia helped teach me, and I hope it will help you, too, as you set out to influence the affairs of the world," she said. "Congratulations, Concordia Class of 2013. May your souls touch other souls."
Saberi is working on a second book while advocating for human rights around the world.
Concordia graduate Lydia Griffin, who studied in Egypt and graduated with a degree in psychology, related to Saberi's quest to make a difference, saying she hopes her life is as "amazing" as Saberi's someday.
"Her idea of having soul and that no one can take your soul away, that was really touching," Griffin said. "It moved me."