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Twin sisters realize American dreams

Posted: May 27, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 27, 2011 1:55 a.m.

From left, Saugus High graduates and twin sisters Nouneh and Vaneh Assadourian stand outside their alma mater. The pair immigrated to the United States from Iran for opportunities they said they would never have had if they had stayed in Iran.

When they arrived at Saugus High School four years ago, neither Vaneh Assadourian, nor her twin sister Nouneh, spoke a word of English.

They showed up for class, having just immigrated from Iran, unable to even ask for directions to their classroom.

Now, as both sisters join the 544 other Saugus graduates, they arrive at the podium as not only honor scholars but as beacons of hope, promise and fortitude for the class of 2011.

“I want to be a successful actress,” said Vaneh, who is also a  Golden State Seal recipient. “I want my story to be heard.”

On Thursday evening, as a senior class speaker for this year’s commencement program at College of the Canyons, she got the chance to tell her story: how she and her sister left Iran, obtained visas in Turkey, came to the United States and never looked back.

Nouneh became the competitive runner she dreamed of becoming, and Vaneh became the actor she always wanted to be.

Growing up in Iran, the sisters were forbidden to pursue their goals.

As women in Iran, they were denied the freedom to do what they wanted, they said.

“The way they made women feel in Iran is that they are not worth anything,” Vaneh explained. “If I wanted to be a lawyer, I would be told ‘You can’t do that because you’re a woman and you’re a Christian.’”

Their father, who remains in Iran, made arrangements for his daughters to travel to Turkey. Once there, the girls obtained permission to come to America, to stay with an aunt who lived in Canyon Country.

“I cried because it was so frustrating,” Vaneh said, recalling her early days at Saugus.

“We couldn’t speak a word of English. They gave us a translator who was Chinese — we don’t understand Chinese,” she said. “We were lost.”

The sisters quickly found their identities, however.

“I started reading a lot of books,” Vaneh said. “It took me five or six minutes to read each paragraph.”

For Vaneh, being on stage was liberating, fulfilling and inspiring.

She acted in the school’s production of “Moliere” and the play “Picnic at Hanging Rock.”

Likewise, Nouneh found equal amounts of inspiration and fulfillment, not just in running, but also in basketball, swimming and fencing.

“I started running cross country in my second year,” she said. “I loved it. I love sports.”

Nouneh said the confidence she achieved through conquering her challenges and overcoming her fears is what now propels her toward her first big adult goal: the Olympics.

Both sisters earned a 4.3 GPA, and will attend UCLA in the fall.



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