Vana Ebrahimi, a 25-year-old from Glendale, graduated from Loyola Law School on Sunday as her brother graduated from medical school. Although their in-person commencement ceremonies were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, they found a way to make the day special.
The pair went to visit their grandpa, Hayrik Abnous, at a La Crescenta nursing home, where he has been since January. In an effort to curb spread of the virus, the facility has been under a lockdown since March.
So Ebrahimi and her brother — first generation college students — got to see their grandpa through a glass door in an emotional reunion.
“We just decided since we’re both graduating, let’s go and surprise him and wear our cap and gowns,” Ebrahimi said. “It was a big deal for us to include him.”
The video of the special moment shows Ebrahimi and her brother, who did not want to share his name or school information, in their gowns, waving to their grandpa while he looks at them in tears from his wheelchair.
“It was heartbreaking but cute at the same time,” said Ebrahimi, who was also in tears in the video. “It was a surreal feeling for us both. It’s the American dream.”
Her parents and grandparents escaped war in Iran and went to Austria, eventually making it to the U.S. in 1993, just before she was born.
“My mom and dad came here literally with no money and not knowing English,” Ebrahimi said. “For us to be able to not just go to college, but also get a graduate degree… It was like the struggle of coming here and escaping war and doing all that was worth it. For us it feels like we’re finally paying them back.”
Having her children graduate from law school and medical school has been emotional for her own mother too, Ebrahimi said. While her uncles were able to leave Iran during the war on student visas, her mother was not.
“You don’t just, you know, send your daughter to America on her own,” Ebrahimi reflected. “So my mom had to stay back, and she never got to go to college because the war happened and the schools closed.”
As an Armenian American, she says the accomplishment has even more meaning for her as a minority.
“From a culture that’s had a genocide, we’re still here we’re still standing. We’re pursuing our dreams and they didn’t destroy us,” she said.
Ebrahimi has been staying with her grandmother while her grandpa remains at the nursing home for a broken hip and a heart condition. She says she and her grandma were going to the nursing home every day before they closed their doors, and at the time of their graduation reunion, she hadn’t been able see her grandpa in two months.
“It was a huge deal to be able to have us all together to celebrate, even though it wasn’t the type of celebration we wanted or imagined,” she said. “Quarantine has had its perks of having more intimate moments with your family.”
Ebrahimi said her “metspop,” as she calls him, has never stopped smiling, even while in the hospital or the nursing home. He is the most easygoing patient, she said, always smiling.
“As an Armenian immigrant family, this meant the world for my grandfather who came here with little to nothing and not knowing the language to see us accomplish the American dream,” she said.