Here's why this student is helping others prepare for their U.S. Citizenship exams

When first talking about herself, GHC senior Brianna Oganyan is a bit timid, as if out of her comfort zone. But she lights up as she begins detailing her dedication to community service and being back on campus after a year and a half away due to the COVID pandemic.

A first-generation Armenian-American, Brianna grew up in a home rich with her family’s cultural roots and heritage from Russian, Lebanon, Syria, and Romania. Her mother and father immigrated to the United States as children and both prioritized honoring and remembering their roots and values - a commitment they passed on to their children. They raised Brianna in a bilingual home, speaking both English and Hayastanci Armenian. Brianna’s parents would even take her to Sunday School where she could further learn and practice her Armenian.

Brianna Oganyan with her parents and brother.

Brianna with her family. 

Brianna has been part of the School's DECA program for students interested in business pathways during all four of her years in high school. It is her favorite part of school, she says, because of the exciting opportunities and experiences it offers. “I probably wouldn’t have gone out and pursued things if I didn’t have the chance to, but I have gotten more opportunities through DECA, so that’s cool.”

Although she does not necessarily plan to pursue a career in business, she says what she’s learned and experienced has led her to consider child psychology. Like many other seniors, Brianna and her family have started looking into colleges and universities including California Lutheran University, University of San Diego, and California State University Northridge.

The dramatic shift the COVID-19 pandemic brought last year pushed Brianna to seek engaging opportunities outside of the classroom, not only for others’ benefits but for her mental well-being. She started by tapping into different After Hours Activities (AHA) courses, such as a Social Media Marketing class taught by other DECA students in which she obtained a Social Media Marketing certification.

But it was community volunteerism that really captured her interest. Her first work was tutoring through a group called the Quarantine Mentors, which helps elementary-aged students with their core curriculum classes as well as ending each week with arts and crafts. She then came in contact with Tatiana Ortiz, who formerly worked at the Granada Hills Branch Library and provided a wide array of volunteer opportunities. 

Two of the most important and memorable, Brianna says, were helping prepare people for the U.S. citizenship exam and creating personal letters for seniors living in nursing homes. Brianna would participate in mock citizenship interviews, asking the prospective citizens the types of questions they would encounter and walking them through the documentation they would need. These sessions personally resonated with her immigrant parents who started in much of a similar fashion when first arriving in the U.S. 

Although she never got to hand her letters to the seniors in person, Brianna says she poured as much love, care, and details into each letter as possible, knowing they might be the only correspondence some would receive, especially during the height of the pandemic. Brianna would receive a list with seniors’ names, hometowns, and hobbies. Based on their brief biographies, she would strive to create personalized letters to brighten up each recipient's day. “It was really personal and even though I never got to see the person’s reaction when opening the card or met them in person; just that for me… I would get really in detail because some of these people may not have seen their families in a while,” she says. “I feel even if it made their day for a split second, that was my favorite thing that I did”.  

DECA Officers 2021-2022

Brianna with her fellow DECA seniors.

While Brianna more than filled up the months of the pandemic, she is happy to be back at school in person. “Oh I love it a lot more, my mental health deteriorated over the pandemic. I can speak for all my friends and myself that it was awful being online... I felt like, for myself, I wasn’t being as hard on myself. I would do school work from my bed, I feel as if I was lacking certain educational help and sometimes I would get lazy too… It was just difficult. I think it was difficult for teachers as well, I know that. It was hard on all of us. It was just difficult to change their curriculum and somehow try to help us online. It was just hard for everyone. And I feel like you can’t see your friends as often. I usually enjoy collaborating with friends and doing group projects together, it’s not the same doing it in breakout rooms on Zoom.”

As one of the thousands of students coming back on campus, Brianna feels secure with the measures that GHC has put in place to keep students and staff safe. She is now taking full advantage of the perks from being close, as COVID-safe as possible, to her friends and teachers. Brianna recalls how, in other years, she tried to build relationships with her teachers and peers but now she is taking extra care to foster and maintain those invaluable relationships. She names Mr. Yamazaki as a memorable teacher who was “always calm and understanding of our circumstances” and enjoyed his teaching style. Mr. Nelson was also named as an outstanding teacher, given their closer connection via DECA over the last four years.