The goal of L.A. Unified is to provide students with the knowledge and skills to graduate prepared for college, career and life. As we near the end of the school year, we are featuring stories about some of the outstanding members of the Class of 2017.
The blockbuster Broadway musical “Hamilton,” about the famous Founding Father, includes the line, “Immigrants! They get the job done.”
Grant Senior High School graduate Miriam Baghdasaryan embodies this notion. Arriving in the United States from Armenia when she was just 8, she is now graduating at the top of her class. And the former English-learner will be giving the valedictory address during Grant’s commencement ceremony on June 8.
“My parents wanted the best opportunities for my sister and me,” she said. “They really believed in the American system of education, and so they left their entire lives behind and brought us here.”
Enrolled as a third-grader at Monlux Elementary School in North Hollywood, Baghdasaryan found herself struggling with her lessons as she tried to master her new language.
“I was surrounded by English, and it was stressful because I couldn’t speak and understand it as well as I wanted,” she said. “I had a hard time having been at the top of my class in Armenia and then seeing my grades fall when I came here – especially in English.”
Baghdasaryan spent hours each night practicing English words and phrases, often translating her lessons to Armenian to improve her understanding and then translating back to English. She was fluent by the end of fourth grade and transferred from ESL into regular classes. By the time she entered Madison Middle School, she was earning straight As, an accomplishment that continued through high school.
With top-notch grades, she was accepted by four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Irvine, Santa Barbara and UCLA – and wait-listed at Harvard.
She chose to attend UCLA as a political science major, and will be rooming in the dorms with her best friend and Grant classmate, Angela Manukyan.
Baghdasaryan also plans to take advantage of work-study programs while volunteering her time as much as she can.
“Although I don’t know which direction life will ultimately take me, I plan to have a job in public service, maybe even in education” she said. “I’ve just come to value education so much and all of the benefits it has brought me.”
Baghdasaryan credits her family, her friends, teachers and administrators for her success.
“I wouldn’t be who I am without them,” she said. “My parents always pushed me hard to succeed, and then I reached a point where I began to push myself to be as successful as I could at everything I do.”
She recalls seeing a flyer for Academic Decathlon on orientation day of her freshman year. Not knowing much about it, she and her best friend decided to try it out. And, now she is the only student in her class to have been involved in Academic Decathlon all four years of high school.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” she said. “I am still in touch with the team I began with my first year. Every year since, we have just built this familial relationship, where we guide and help one another. We work together to recognize our strengths and weaknesses and work hard to improve on all levels.”
She says Academic Decathlon introduced her to fields to which she might not otherwise have been exposed, such as art history and economics. She decided to take Advanced Placement courses in those subjects, and aced the exams. She is even considering an art history minor at UCLA.
“That would make my dad happy,” she said, smiling. “He is a history buff, and for years every morning driving to school, he would quiz me about what I was learning in history. I would answer the questions, and then he would use the Socratic method to get me to think more deeply about what I was learning.”
Baghdasaryan has also been involved in student leadership through high school, and now serves as vice president of the Associated Study Body. She and Manukyan, the ASB president, read the daily announcements to the school every morning.
She says her time at Grant High School has provided good preparation for her time after graduation.
“I am so grateful to all the teachers and administrators here who have helped me so much,” she said. “My high school years have been amazing, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for me as I journey forward.”
According to Grant Principal Vicki Damonte, the feeling is mutual.
“Students like Miriam help us know we must be doing something right,” Damonte said. “She’s just so well-rounded. Aside from being incredibly bright, she has a terrific personality, and is personable, so artistic and kind. We are all very proud of her. We know she is going to go out into the world and really knock ‘em dead.”
While Baghdasaryian says she will miss everyone at her high school, she looks forward to learning new things and meeting new challenges. While waiting for the fall term to start, she’ll take swimming lessons.
“I don’t know how to swim,” she said. “So, that’s something new I am going to learn. I don’t think I will ever stop learning. It’s what makes life rewarding.”
While excited about the future and where she is going, Baghdasaryian approaches everything she does with a calm and positive demeanor. She seems perfectly content with where she has been and where she is now.
“Sometimes, your life may seem like it’s all mapped out,” she said. “But, when you look closer, you see a lot of jagged lines, twists and turns, ups and downs. If you do your best to navigate those jagged lines and take on all the opportunities that life offers, then you will live to your fullest, and you will be a happy person.”