DUNWOODY, Ga.—Negar “Arianna” Yazdanpanah credits resiliency and hard work for getting her to the graduation finish line.
She’s among 738 candidates expected to graduate from Perimeter College at Georgia State University on Friday, May 5. Earning her associate degree in dental hygiene has been a journey for Yazdanpanah who didn’t graduate from high school until age 21 and sometimes worked two jobs while taking college courses.
Now 27, Yazdanpanah immigrated for a second time from Iran to the United States in 2015 with her mother and younger sister. They joined her father in Georgia, where he’d been living since the family initially moved to the state in 2005, after spending a few years in Turkey as refugees.
Yazdanpanah, whose native language is Farsi, had been doing well in America, excelling in classes and speaking fluent English, before returning to Iran with her mother and sister. Once there, teachers assigned Yazdanpanah to a lower grade, because they said she wasn’t speaking Farsi fluently enough.
Just as Yazdanpanah started to do well academically in Iran, they moved back to Atlanta—where she once again found herself struggling academically. While in Iran, her command of the English language had slipped. And although Yazdanpanah was near the typical age for graduating high school when she returned to Georgia, she lacked the needed credit hours.
Because of her age, school administrators suggested she get a GED or homeschool. But Yazdanpanah felt she’d do better with face-to-face interaction in a school setting.
As a way of helping Yazdanapah acclimate to high school in the U.S., the counselor at her north Atlanta High school paired her with a schoolmate named David to assist with lessons and homework.
“She was like, ‘David, I’m giving this girl to you and you need to help her, ‘cause she has no idea,’” Yazdanpanah recalled, with a laugh.
Turns out, David helped Yazdanpanah not only graduate from high school, but also to take the ACT and Perimeter College entrance exam, as well as apply for financial aid. At one point, he even joined her as a student at Perimeter so that he could continue helping.
“If it wasn’t for David,” Yazdanpanah said, “I wouldn’t be right here, right now.”
Dr. Risa Handman, associate professor and director of Perimeter’s dental hygiene program, cites Yazdanpanah’s drive and determination as additional reasons for her success. She’s confident that Yazdanpanah will be an outstanding dental hygienist.
“She is brilliant, very well-grounded and quite humble,” Handman said. “She works hard and will make her patients feel very well cared for.”
After originally thinking that she wanted to become a dentist, Yazdanpanah is convinced that she made the right choice to pursue dental hygiene.
She recalls, with a big smile, the satisfaction of helping a patient who recently visited the dental hygiene clinic on Perimeter’s Dunwoody Campus. Yazdanpanah says the gentleman hadn’t been to the dentist in decades and had developed gum disease. She was able to identify his condition and point him in the right direction for treatment.
“I’m glad that I have this knowledge and I can help them,” she said.
As Yazdanpanah prepares to graduate from Perimeter, she is looking forward to a rewarding career as a dental hygienist.
“I’m always trying to do my best,” she said.
Story by Kysa Anderson Daniels
Photo by Bill Roa