Brady couple helps Armenian locate a home, education at Howard Payne

When Armenian-born Hasmik Grigurian graduated from Howard Payne University last Saturday, it was a bittersweet moment. Bitter in that she will miss terribly the friends she’s made during her four years at HPU and sweet as she has worked so hard to see her graduation day finally come. Grigurian’s search for an American college was met with disappointment after heartbreaking disappointment. Always, there was the question of finances. Grigurian said she had no idea how she was going to pay for college, she just knew she wanted to go to an American college. As it happened, Grigurian spent her senior year of high school (1998 -1999) in Texas through a foreign exchange program. Grigurian said the competition was fierce to get here because 3,000 students from Armenia vied for the chance to come to school in the United States. Only 50 were chosen. “I was one of the lucky ones,” she said. Grigurian said her exchange trip was mostly paid for by the organization that sponsored the program. “My dream was always to come to an American school,” she said. “I had been studying English since I was seven-years-old.” During her senior year, Grigurian applied to colleges and was accepted into several. With each school she visited, Grigurian said the fateful question was always asked. “How do you plan to pay for this'” Each time the answer was the same. “I don’t know.” Grigurian said she had no financial help, she just knew she wanted to go to college in America. Her host grandparents were Bill and Patsy Finlay of Brady. At the end of Grigurian’s senior year in high school, Patsy, an HPU alumnus, drove Grigurian from Brady to D-FW for her flight home. As they were driving through Brownwood, Grigurian said her host grandmother suggested they stop and check out Howard Payne. “I thought it would be another disappointment,” Grigurian said. Finlay took Grigurian to meet James Breckenridge who was, at that time, the head of international studies. Grigurian said he was so excited that she would be their first student from Armenia. When she told him she didn’t know how she would be able to pay her tuition, Breckenridge said, “God will take care of you.” In two hours, on her way to the airport, Grigurian had found her American college. Still unsure of how it was all going to happen, Grigurian said she told her host grandmother at the airport that she guessed she’d see her again when she started school in the fall. “I didn’t know how it was all going to work out, but it did,” Grigurian said. For her first semester, Grigurian commuted from her host grandparents’ home in Brady. She said her grandparents helped her, as did her mother, who was working in the United States. Grigurian was able to work in the cafeteria to help pay for her schooling as well. During her time at HPU, Grigurian, who speaks three languages’Russian, Armenian and English’has been involved in Student Foundation, Student Government, as secretary, International Student Association, as president her freshman year, servant leadership forum, learning how to be a leader by serving others, resident assistant in the dorms and a computer lab assistant in Wein-brenner. Grigurian said she was a Christian when she came to Brownwood, but through her experiences at HPU, “I think I grew even stronger being at Howard Payne. “I kind of truly found what I believe in,” Grigurian said. “I was a very uneducated Christian.” Grigurian attends Coggin Avenue Baptist Church where she was baptized while attending college. At recent award ceremonies, Grigurian was honored as Outstanding Student, School of Business and Outstanding Student, Computer Information Systems. Grigurian will graduate with a double major in Computer Information Systems and Business. After graduation, although she’s had offers from large companies for employment, she said she plans to start her own business, probably in Fort Worth. She describes the business as an advertising-type company that designs software products to promote businesses, products or people through animation and graphics. It will be a graphic design animation and website design business. Grigurian said she has been interviewed by big companies and has been asked to come back. “That’s not in my heart,” she said. After much faith and hard work over the past four years, Grigurian will graduate, having lived her dream of attending school in America. Graduating, however, will be hard, she said. “Howard Payne has been home for me,” Grigurian said. “It’s going to be hard to go away. I’ve made so many friends here and relationships. It’s been my home away from home.” Grigurian said she realizes that not many students get the opportunity that she’s had. “I’m very blessed and appreciative of the opportunity,” she said. “People here are really blessed. They just don’t realize.” Armenia is a country of the former Soviet Union and has a history that dates back to 2000 B.C. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Grigurian said she remembers a war in 1991 with closed Muslim countries. “I remember one night when there were tanks in the city,” she said referring to her hometown of Yervan, the capital city of Armenia with a population of about one million. Grigurian said there was a time when they went two years without electricity except for sporadic pieces of time like an hour a day. She said people across the city cheered when the electricity would randomly come on. She said she remembers rations and standing in long lines for hours upon hours for bread. “It’s been tough, but it’s getting better,” Grigurian said. “All of those experiences make you stronger.” Grigurian said her country is one of the oldest, though very small. “The letters on the map are bigger than the country,” she said. Grigurian said a part of the history she was most proud of was that Christianity was brought to the country by two of the original disciples of Jesus Christ, Thadeous and Bartholomew, in about 301 A.D. Within a century, she said the alphabet was invented in order to translate the Bible. Grigurian said that normal people couldn’t read Greek so the Armenian alphabet had to be invented, and the Bible was the first book written or translated in the language. Another interesting piece of history that Grigurian said she can see from the window of her home is Mt. Ararat, the place where Noah moored the ark after the rainwater that had destroyed the earth had diminished. Since the country has such an ancient history, the churches that Grigurian said she attended were very old as is most everything in the country. “We get excited when see new stuff,” Grigurian said. “People here want to collect old stuff and make their house look old. We want new stuff and to make things look new because it’s all old.” New has been a recurring theme for Grigurian since she’s been at HPU. She remembers new friends, new experiences, new mentors. Grigurian was an only child as is her best friend at Howard Payne, Sara Feuling. “We found each other as sisters at Howard Payne,” Grigurian said. “We were like twins separated at birth who just found each other.” Grigurian’s memories include many nights running three times around campus and the many vacations and holidays spent with Feuling and her family, even a first-time camping trip. Every year, Grigurian had numerous offers of places to spend her holidays including her host family, her best friend, her roommates and her mother. Grigurian said that holidays in this country were different than in hers. She said they don’t celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25. Instead, New Year’s Day is the “big deal” and Jan. 6 is Christmas. Instead of in stockings, Santa Claus hid presents under the children’s pillows at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Another popular holiday in Armenia that Grigurian said dated back to pagan times is Vardavar, celebrated in August. The holiday basically consists of people pouring water on each other, an activity the children, especially, enjoyed participating in. The holiday originated from an ancient practice of asking the god of water to bless the harvest with plenty of water. Armenia, Grigurian explained, is located in the mountains separated from the seas. “It’s like a celebration of abundant water,” Grigurian said. She remembers pouring water on passers by from balconies or tossing buckets of water at cars that were driving on the streets. Grigurian said that people knew if they were going to get soaked if they went outside. Grigurian said before that the experiences she’s gone through have made her stronger, and she should know. She’s had many experiences, trials and triumphs to draw from. As a student in Armenia, she dreamed of attending school in America and through faith and hard work, she saw that dream come true. Now, as she faces graduation and looks ahead to the future, an unknown one with the prospect of starting her own business, she can pull from her experience of getting to and through Howard Payne and know that this dream too can come true. It did once before. (This article first appeared on May 5 and is reprinted with permission of the Brownwood Bulletin.)

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