April 10, 2024

Style and substance: Student award posthumously honours law alum

Giving Day fundraising to bring Armin Mojtahedi Memorial Award closer to endowment level
man in graduation gown and mortarboard, holding his framed degree
Armin Mojtahedi on graduation day Courtesy Mojtahedi family

At law school, even on the first day, casual attire for students is a given. And 2013 is certainly no exception.

Until Armin Mojtahedi strides in.

That morning, his spiffy outfit catches eyes. Recalling that initial glimpse of his classmate (and future roommate), Marco Maduri chuckles. “He was wearing a suit,” says Maduri, JD/MBA’17. “A bold pattern. Peak lapels. Well-tailored. A bit much for 10 o’clock on a Wednesday. Who is this guy? Everyone else is wearing a hoodie, a T-shirt, sweatpants. But he stood out — he was a unique individual.”

Michelle Christopher, BA’82, then a Faculty of Law professor and now a justice of the Alberta Court of Justice, will never forget her introduction to the dapper newcomer. “It wasn’t an act. It was just him deciding on the first day that this is really what he wanted to do,” she says. “He insisted on dressing the part of a lawyer, so he was always impeccably turned out.”

Sartorial splendour was Mojtahedi’s hallmark. But his depth went well beyond the cool threads. He brimmed with enthusiasm, confidence and determination — and wanted to make a difference by practising law.

Those intentions, tragically, ended up being cut short. Mojtahedi, JD’16, died in 2017, following a diagnosis of an aggressive brain tumour. Fighting through failing health, he still nearly managed to fulfill his articling obligations.

Keeping Armin’s story alive

Established now in his honour by classmates, friends, colleagues, family members and instructors is the Armin Mojtahedi Memorial Award in Law, a scholarship that recognizes students who demonstrate exemplary mentorship, commitment and collegiality as members of Student Legal Assistance (SLA) and within the law school.

“If this could help a student in Armin’s memory,” says Justice Christopher, former executive director of SLA, “it would be amazing because he was really passionate about his work at Student Legal Assistance to improve access to justice.”

Marco Maduri

Marco Maduri, a classmate and former roommate of Armin Mojtahedi, champions the scholarship established in memory of his friend.

Courtesy Marco Maduri

SLA is a pro-bono legal clinic that provides services to low-income residents in the Calgary area. Advocacy work appealed to Mojtahedi and he dedicated himself to the cause, according to Maduri. “If we can find other students who have that passion, if we can do something that supports them in the work that SLA does, we’ll all be very proud.”

The goal is to raise enough for the scholarship so it can be awarded in perpetuity, with $1,000 going to one deserving student each year. Friends and family are actively fundraising and invite anyone who knew Armin or is moved by his story to contribute.

UCalgary Giving Day, on now through April 18, is an ideal time for a fundraising push, with donations matched, up to $2,500 per gift, while matching funds last.

“Armin loved the idea of being a lawyer. From Day 1, he was committed to that idea,” says William Katz, JD/MBA’16, a senior associate at JSS Barristers in Calgary who was among Mojtahedi’s friends and classmates. Guaranteed, at the SLA dinner every year, students will hear his name, they will hear what he stood for.”

A bittersweet bar call

Mojtahedi’s inspirational journey has been well documented. Following the petitioning of the Law Society of Alberta, he was granted a rare posthumous bar call. On Sept. 29, 2023, at the Calgary Courts Centre with Justice Christopher presiding — in front of loved ones, including his parents, sister (and her toddler named Armin) — Mojtahedi was admitted as a member of the Law Society of Alberta, the final step to becoming a lawyer.

Selfie of a young man and his mother

Armin with his mother, Zohreh Mojtahedi.

Courtesy Mojtahedi family

“The last time I saw Armin, he said, ‘This (cancer) is not going to stop me,’” says Katz. “I told him that if there’s anything I can do, I would do it. And he said, ‘I’ll take you up on that.’ So, for me, it was a promise I made. There was a huge sense of, ‘OK, we were able to get him to the finish line.’”

Maduri, who assumed care of Mojtahedi’s beloved bulldog Chip, is pleased by the bar call and the scholarship.

“To remember how excited Armin was about this profession, it really makes you grateful,” says Maduri, now an associate at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP in Vancouver. “It gives you a sense of perspective. It really makes you appreciate what we’ve all accomplished, how hard we all fought, and how much one of our good friends wanted to be right here with us.

“It’s a sad story, but I think it also has a happy ending.”

UCalgary Giving Day is April 18. Whether you support research, student awards or another one of UCalgary’s innovative funds, your gift will help change lives and shape the future. Eligible gifts made from April 4-18 will be matched, up to $2,500 per gift, per fund — but only while matching funds last, so be sure to give early! Make your gift today at ucalgary.ca/givingday.

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