By Christine Soussa
This year, at our November 15 annual event celebrating “Armenian Women Preserving Cultural Heritage” AIWA-SF will be honoring KZV Principal, Grace Andonian. When we scheduled time for us to chat for the AIWA-SF blog feature, I had no idea Grace was such a successful and inspiring woman. She’s a courageous and curious survivor who independently left Lebanon during the Civil War. She is a loving wife, devoted mother, athlete, musician, and dedicated educator.
She unequivocally deserves to be honored by AIWA-SF on November 15 for all she does in order to preserve our rich Armenian cultural heritage. If you haven’t already purchased your tickets, please do. Tickets can be purchased here.
I’m thrilled to share her story with the broader AIWA community:
I [Grace] was born in Beirut, Lebanon and went to Nishan Palandjian Jemaran School. I graduated in 1980 and then went to AUB and majored in Chemistry. Growing up I was very athletic; I played basketball with Homenetmen¹s Beirut Chapter and we even won the first international tournament.
At AUB I was Team Captain for three years. I also played
Table Tennis and was the Lebanese Champion. In 1983, I participated in the World Championship in Tokyo, Japan and in 1985, I represented Lebanon in the Swedish games. I played singles and mixed doubles.
I was also a musician, ; I played in a band that sang in English, French and Armenian. We even had a concert and donated the money we earned for a scholarship. It was a fun hobby. I played the piano and the synthesizer. I love music.
After graduation, I was very active with our Alumni Association and tutored students who were not doing well in their classes. Thus, the love of teaching in me was born. While I was a university student, I got a phone call from my high school principal asking if I would be able to teach Science to the 9th grade class. That was my first formal experience teaching in a classroom setting. A sentimental coincidence was that one of my first students, Garine Panossian, is now a 7th grade teacher at KZV today. In 1986, I left Lebanon because of the Civil War. I came alone as a tourist. It was a scary time filled with uncertainty but also curiosity. I came to Los Angeles and started teaching at Mesrobian High School. The principal was looking for someone to teach Science, Armenian and Physical Education. It was perfect fit for me as I was able to teach all three of those subjects. So in my first year, I taught: 7th grade Science, 8th grade Math, 5th grade Armenian and 4th grade Physical Education. The year after, I taught: 3rd grade Armenian, 10th grade Geometry, 7th grade Math and 8th/9th grade Algebra. Wherever there was a need, I would teach. One of my best experience was teaching Chemistry to the Mesrobian class of 1989.
At the same time, from 1989-1992, I was an anchor person for Horizon; that is how I met my husband. He saw me on TV and he told his friends, “I’m going to marry her.” So he called Horizon and asked if I would go out with him. My response was a resounding “no”. Then, in 1991 we met at fundraiser in Saroyan Hall and the rest is history. In 1992, we got married.
As a new bride, I moved to Northern California and started working at KZV. I started teaching Math to grades 6-8 and Science to grades 7-8. In 1994 I had my first daughter, Vana, and as a new mom, I stopped working to devote my time to my growing family. Soon after, in 1996 my son Krikor was born. When Krikor was 2 1/2 (September 1998), I returned to KZV and took the same position as middle school Math and Science teacher. In 2001, our third child, Talar, was born and in 2003, our 4th child, Alique. I continued working until 2006 when, I decided to take a break and helped my husband with Real Estate. Then in 2009, there was a Principal position open at KZV. I applied, and the Board of Regents appointed me. This is my 6th year as Principal.
How was the transition from Teacher to Principal?
Being a teacher helped me a lot. I have been there, so I lead as a mentor and guide, not just as a manager. I am here to help. I substitute a lot, and I go into the classrooms as much as I can. My door is always open to our teachers, to our students, to our parents and even to community members. I am very hands-on. I know all the students and their families personally, and I watch out for our students as if they were my own.
This year¹s event theme is Preserving our Cultural Heritage. What does this mean to you?
Being Armenian is what makes our culture and our schools. We want to instill our traditions and our rich history. We celebrate traditions like Vartanants and Tarkmantchats (Day of Holy Translators). Our students not only learn to read and write, but through art, painting, music, food, folkloric dancing, literature fairs, “hantes”es and community celebrations, they gain an understanding and love of the Armenian people and an appreciation of their own identity. I believe it is important to keep traditions alive and teach them to the next generation. We only have a few years to teach this to our children. KZV is only up to 8th grade and after 8th grade they will graduate and go on to other schools.
it is important to me to know that once our students graduate and become members of our community that they will have a foundation that includes our Armenian culture. My heart warms when I see Alumni returning to KZV
as teachers, Board Members or active members of our community via various organizations and events. At KZV, I strive to give our students “Armenian-ness” and prepare them to be good citizens using an academic focus- academia is critical. Our current student body is 132 students, pre-school to 8th grade and I am thrilled to say that our pre-school is near capacity with 32 students.
As working mom with four kids, how do you juggle it all?
I am lucky to have a supportive family via my husband. My entire family is in Lebanon. My in-laws and sister-in-laws are amazing and have helped a lot. I always keep the big picture in mind. I don¹t focus on the little things. My children put a huge smile on my face. My kids are a blessing, and I love them dearly.