Education Is the Foundation for Everything
The JHM Charitable Foundation’s Empowerment of Women at AUA
Hasmik Mgrdichian was born in 1923 in Detroit, Michigan, to parents who escaped the Armenian Genocide. When the massacres began in Kharpert, they fled on foot, traveling through various routes to Russia, Mongolia, and Japan. They eventually made it to the United States and settled permanently in Boyle Heights, California. John Mgrdichian, Hasmik’s husband, was also born in 1923, on the other side of the country in Los Angeles. His parents had also settled in the U.S. after fleeing Gyumri, Armenia, to escape the massacres. By chance, they ended up meeting at a local church both of their families attended. They soon fell in love, got married in 1945, and began building their family and legacy.
Hasmik was raised in a family of engineers, with every intention to go to college, but her life’s path led her to start her own family and put her plans on hold. She didn’t continue her education, but she was a very intelligent woman with a mind driven by math and engineering.
Together, Hasmik and John were a beautiful force. Their marriage was like a partnership, where they gave each other room to grow and respectively take the lead in whichever area each felt they held more strength in. Though they did not go to college themselves, they had great wisdom and an entrepreneurial spirit that led them to develop different business enterprises. They established a successful waste collection company that enabled them to pursue other business ventures, including the opening of a card casino in San Bernardino County, California. Through the various steps they took in establishing their careers, they always kept in them a sense of gratitude, first for the survival of their families, and second, for having the privilege of living in a country where they were allowed to follow their dreams, with nothing off limits if they worked hard.
Throughout their journey, they also developed a philanthropic spirit, with John always carrying ambitions of giving back to the community. After his passing, Hasmik created the John and Hasmik Mgrdichian Charitable Foundation. Over time, their granddaughter, Lysa Grigorian, became more involved. Today, Lysa has undertaken the responsibility of carrying on the spirit and mission of her grandparents and is involved with several projects for the betterment of Armenia and its people. Through the foundation, she recently established the Hasmik Mgrdichian Endowed Scholarship at AUA to honor her grandmother’s memory while supporting female students studying in the fields of science and technology.
When asked what inspired her to support AUA and the Yes, Armenian Women Can! campaign, Lysa responds, “My grandmother was a supporter of AUA when the University was just starting. She believed in creating opportunities and support for all women to receive an education.” Lysa herself recalls her grandmother always being supportive of the idea of her grandchildren receiving quality education, encouraging them to pursue and build upon their talents. This value of education has been deeply instilled in Lysa, as she discusses her hopes that through a better-educated citizenry of Armenia, the country will change and grow to be more sustainable. She commends the efforts of the Diaspora and hopes that it is recognized within Armenia and that we all work jointly to improve the country’s educational, judicial, and military systems.
In particular, Lysa trusts that women can play a big role in the development of technology to keep Armenia safe. Their contributions to science can be on a global level, and inspire other women to enter the STEM fields. Her advice to young women in Armenia trying to break barriers: “Don’t even have the word ‘barrier’ in your vocabulary—it’s all in your head. Go with your intuition and just move forward,” she urges, adding that her grandmother would similarly say, “Have the courage to go forward and don’t stop. The only barriers to break are the ones you create for yourself.”
Lysa believes that AUA is one of the best educational institutions in Armenia, and encourages others to join in on the University’s efforts to empower young women in science and technology, stressing the importance of active participation and building a bridge to make a physical connection. She encourages others to go to Armenia and get connected: ”It’s going to enrich their whole lives.”
Lysa is happy to stay connected with her homeland. She feels a strong sense of responsibility knowing it’s what her grandparents would want—what her grandmother, Hasmik, would want. She says in simple, yet powerful words, “Education is the foundation for everything.”