Teen Achieves College Dream With Help Of Danville Benefactor

By Matt O’Brien

Contra Costa Times
08/14/2008 07:15:34 PM PDT

DANVILLE — On the first day of his freshman orientation, Arthur
Mkoyan arrived at UC Davis, with his mom, dad, little brother and a
woman who was a stranger to all of them just a month ago.

The 17-year-old from Fresno toured the campus this week with what
family members say is his restrained, quiet enthusiasm. But his newest
friend and benefactor, Sherry Heacox of Danville, was positively
bursting with excitement.

Heacox, a food importer who works from her home near downtown Danville,
called the Fresno family last month and told them the unimaginable:
She wanted Mkoyan to attend his school of choice. And she was going
to pay for it.

"She’s wonderful. She’s just unbelievable," said Asmik Karapetian,
Arthur’s mother. "It’s like a dream come true."

As graduation from Fresno’s Bullard High School approached in June,
the student with a perfect GPA and a passion for science had been
forced to abandon his plans to attend UC Davis. His father was sitting
in an Arizona prison after federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement
agents came to arrest him in April.

After school ended, the teen and his parents were scheduled to be
deported to Armenia, a country Mkoyan does not remember and has not
seen since he was a toddler. His 13-year-old brother, an American
citizen who has never set foot in Armenia, likely would return
with them.

The story of the Central Valley teen and his family, which has
attracted national media attention,

infuriated and saddened Heacox.

"We gave them all the tools to live here 16 years and then we changed
our minds," she said. "I just don’t understand our willingness to
waste talent."

Instead of letting him study chemistry at a top-ranked research
school, Heacox came to learn that the United States might end up
shipping Mkoyan off to serve in the Armenian military, since service
is compulsory there for young adult men. He turns 18 in October.

Ruben Mkoian, Arthur’s father, whose surname is spelled differently,
fled Armenia for the United States in 1991, a year when the
former Soviet republic was wresting itself from Moscow’s collapsing
control. The family said they left the country because Mkoian, a law
enforcement officer, had exposed corruption in the agency he worked
for and caused the family to be harassed at home and at the general
store they owned.

As Mkoian arrived in California on a temporary visa and sought
political asylum, his wife and 1-year-old son fled for the Russian
city of Rostov, where they waited for a time. When they followed
Mkoian to Fresno, Arthur was 4. He said he remembers the plane trip
and seeing his dad.

"We didn’t do anything illegal," Karapetian said. "We have work
permit, driver’s license, paying taxes. We did our best, but I guess
it doesn’t matter."

The asylum case was never granted approval by a judge, only rejected,
appealed, delayed and finally rejected for a final time earlier this
year on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to demonstrate
a danger if they returned home to Armenia.

"Arthur, this is not his fault," Karapetian said. "We brought him
here. He grew up here. This is his home. He worked very hard, never
gave up."

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein put the deportation on hold June 10,
Arthur’s graduation day, using a rare legislative maneuver.

"As long as our legislation is pending, they will not be removed,"
Feinstein spokesman Scott Gerber said. "In this case, she thought that
Arthur and his family merited a private legislation. We’re going to
work to see that it’s passed."

The move also temporarily released the teen’s father, who works as a
truck driver. Yet with so much uncertainty, Arthur dropped his plans
for his dream school, UC Davis, so he could stay closer to home,
attending a community college until the situation was resolved. His
undocumented status also made him ineligible for financial aid, so
his family could not afford an education that UC Davis says costs
boarding students about $25,000 per year.

Heacox could not get Mkoyan out of her head and talked about it with
her husband, who told her, "OK, do something about it." The couple,
Danville residents for about 13 years, had just watched their daughter
graduate from four years at UC Santa Barbara.

Heacox put pen to paper and tracked the family down. Arthur was in
another room when his mother answered the phone, talking to someone
for what seemed like more than an hour.

"It was just exciting," he said. "I didn’t really believe it at first."

Heacox said "there’s been an amazing outpouring of public support,"
with some donors putting money into Arthur’s college account for side
expenses. As possibly the most famous incoming freshman arriving at
UC Davis this fall, the teen said he is neither hiding nor making a
big deal of his status as a potential deportee.

"If anybody wants to know, I’d be happy to tell them about it,"
he said.