Wasatch Academy student, Sonita Alizadeh, has been named to the BBC List of Top 100 Women of 2015 and the annual Foreign Policy Magazine List of Top Global Thinkers. This 18-year old is receiving global recognition for her fierce advocacy to end forced child marriage, her artistic talent and her outspoken courage.
Sonita was nearly sold by her own parents for $9,000 into an arranged marriage at 16. In protest, Sonita secretly recorded a video for her rap song “Brides for Sale,” which went viral when she posted it on YouTube. Sonita has been busy, balancing the demands of her work to end child marriage with her studies at Wasatch Academy, often doing her schoolwork on the plane between formal engagements. Just this past month, Sonita went to London to participate in the Women of the World Summit, to Oslo to perform her songs for the Prime Minister of Norway and then to Washington, D.C. to attend the Foreign Policy Magazinereception, returning to Wasatch Academy in the past week to finish her semester exams.
When asked about being named to the BBC List of the Top 100 Women of 2015, Sonita says she feels honored to be in the company of leaders shaping world opinion. The most thrilling acknowledgement of her work, however, came when the film narrating her life story, Sonita, won the IDFA Audience Award at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam.
Head of School, Joseph Loftin, who accompanied her to the world film premiere in Amsterdam, was deeply moved by the tremendous reception for Sonita and for her film by all those in attendance: : “Sonita and her story touched the hearts of all the people in the audience. She stole the show!” Sonita, the documentary account of her experience narrowly escaping the fate of becoming a child bride, concludes with her arrival at Wasatch Academy. The award winning documentary is showing in Utah in February at the Sundance Film Festival, where Sonita and some of her fellow Wasatch Academy students will be attending the American premiere.
It is clear that Loftin admires her courage as an undocumented refugee who has traveled enormous distances in such a short time: “She spoke with authority and eloquence to the assembled international audience, despite the fact that only ten months ago, upon arriving at Wasatch Academy for the first time, she couldn’t speak English!”
Wasatch Academy has encouraged her to find and refine her intellectual voice. Sonita delivers her message with clarity and passion: “Don’t be afraid to try new ways, don’t give up, follow your dreams and believe in yourselves!” Another person whom she credits as giving her inspiration and support is filmmaker Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami, the director who produced the award winning documentary of her life. The director went far beyond the call of duty, risking her own life to make the film. Sonita acknowledges the film director as being a key mentor, a formative influence upon her personal development: “I would love to be like her, to care about other people, not just making movies. She helped me by listening to my words. She helped me record my songs, she helped to prove myself to my family and to the world.”
Sonita delivers a powerful and inspiring message, a message which has touched the hearts of listeners worldwide. She herself deeply appreciates those behind the scenes who have helped her to get her message out: “I was happy to have Rokhsareh in my life because she was always listening to my words, she believed in me.”