Kiana Mehanian is a freshman undeclared arts major.
On the first day of high school, I was as timid and lost as any other freshman at Oakwood Secondary School, a small arts high school in North Hollywood, California. I was one of Oakwood’s only Iranian students. In a blur of new classes and faces, I met one of the most meaningful people in my high school career. My academic adviser, Mickey Morgan, sat in the corner of his small office, beside a wooden desk carved with the names of past students covering every inch.
A school can significantly change over four decades, but through everything, Mickey, a mentor and teacher to countless over the years, has remained constant.
Mickey’s lifelong dedication to social justice and philanthropy has influenced students to apply their interests and abilities to the issues they’re most passionate about. Because he was in his 20s during the social justice movements that dominated the ‘60s, Mickey knows the most worthwhile ways for our generation to enact change. This is when Mickey is most authentic and candid — presenting opportunities to students to become more engaged and involved with societal and global issues.
As the backbone of organizations, clubs, and events that define the school’s community engagement, Mickey prioritizes amplifying student voices. He includes students in conferences involving administration, community service and volunteer work, and campus-wide events that exhibit student art while bringing awareness to specific causes. One club he founded in 2005, Oakwood Students for Progressive Reform (OSPR), provides students and faculty with a weekly space dedicated to discussing global and domestic issues. I remember attending OSPR fall of sophomore year and was inspired by the upperclassmen and their ability to command the room.
I never imagined myself having the confidence to do the same.
A specific OSPR event topic, “America: Post 9/11,” was being led by two of Oakwood’s most respected history teachers. I told Mickey how interested I was in attending the meeting, and he asked if I’d be willing to lead alongside the faculty. I was reluctant, doubting my ability to be anything other than an audience member. However, I hadn’t given him a definite answer when I walked into school to see a poster advertising that week’s OSPR meeting, with “Led by Kiana Mehanian” in the center.
In retrospect, this meeting was one of my proudest moments as a student, and I didn’t realize until later on in high school how necessary it was for him to push me outside of my comfort zone. From then on, Mickey allowed me to lead the meetings on issues that were especially important to me, usually involving the Middle East. I felt represented and granted the opportunity to educate my peers and faculty on current events that I had an emotional attachment to. Mickey provided me the room to find my voice, giving me the time, audience, and space to speak from the heart about topics that directly affected me.
On a smaller scale, I felt especially mentored by Mickey in our personal conversations sitting in his office. While one-on-one, his sarcastic humor and eagerness to truly get to know you shines through. Whether it be about a project, last night’s baseball game, or, in my case, not having a clue how to be honest with myself in order to pursue what I wanted to after high school.
Maybe it’s his age, his obvious life experience and understanding of the world, or calm demeanor and all-knowing slight smile that never leaves his face, but a conversation with Mickey is like having all of your questions answered before either of you speak a word. In a way, this brought us closer to his level of insightfulness, believing in ourselves as much as he did.
As a senior in high school, I was sick of hearing that everything would work out in the end. I was anxious about the present and hated the uncertainty of the future. After expressing these thoughts to Mickey, the words he said haven’t left my mind since: “It’s hard to take now, but life is long… and you will find tons of great stuff to do, tons of great people to meet, and a lot of fulfillment. I kept comparing this in my mind to how you had sounded in 9th grade — you should be proud of the great distance you have traveled, in this as in many other areas.”
Mickey taught me true dedication, and how understanding ourselves is inextricably linked to pursuing our passions. It’s connections with natural mentors like Mickey that remind us how important it is to seek guidance, just as much as it is to carry it with us through the rest of our lives. If it weren’t for Mickey’s devotion to affecting change, I question whether I would have prioritized social justice in a school as much as I did when deciding where I’d go to college. I’m proud to be a part of an institution with a strong commitment to social justice because of Mickey’s influence, where my passion for contributing to change first began.