by Arman Deganian
President, DeKalb Bar Association
I moved to DeKalb County in 2003 after completing law school at the University of Georgia. To be quite honest, I wasn’t overly excited about moving to DeKalb from Athens at the age of twenty-five. Like every other UGA graduate I know who bleeds red and black, I would have preferred to linger in Athens for a bit (or forever) as opposed to moving intown and getting a real job. Despite my personal preferences, my law school debt demanded that I make the move. Thus, after taking the bar, I packed up the few possessions I had and found an apartment in Decatur.
Fast forward thirteen years, and here I am. Decatur is still my home. I love DeKalb County and everything DeKalb County represents. What I didn’t realize or appreciate at twenty-five is that Dekalb County represents everything about America that I love, and everything I love about America is epitomized by my father’s journey to DeKalb County forty years ago. Now, to be fair, I didn’t grow up in DeKalb County. I grew up in Walton County, which is about forty five minutes east of Atlanta. Although I loved growing up where I did, it was rural. It was everything my home now is not. It was homogenous. It was safe. It was quiet. It was a great place to grow up playing in the woods, but I was self-conscious about being different than everyone else around me. I’m still ashamed about it, but, at the wise age of nine, I decided that I wanted to go by my middle name Michael instead of my first name Arman. I remained Michael until I started college and began appreciating my history. Thus, I became Arman again. I know, I know.
I live in one of the most diverse and eclectic counties in America. There is nowhere I would rather be today, and I’m honored and in awe to represent this county’s bar association.”
My father, Javad Deganian, moved to America in 1969. He obtained his medical degree in Shiraz, Iran, his hometown. He wanted more opportunities than Iran could offer him at the time, so he left everything familiar to him, including his family, and moved to Philadelphia to pursue his residency at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Next he made his way to Cincinnati. He met my mother in Cincinnati, and they wed soon after. Before starting a family, my mother and father looked for a place to start a new chapter in their lives. They settled on Georgia, and moved into a small house in Tucker, Georgia in 1974.
Dekalb County became home for them, and my oldest brother was born the next year. My father opened up his own pediatric practice the same year. It is still operating today forty-two years later. He still works three days a week at the age of seventy-four. Considering today’s political climate, I sometimes wonder if my father would have had the same opportunities that he had back in 1974. Some folks think people like my father should pass a litmus test in order to have a shot at the American Dream. Would my father have passed that test? Who knows. He barely spoke English. Would his skin have been too dark? His accent too think? His beard too long? His last name too difficult to pronounce?
What I do know is that he didn’t have to face those questions. He didn’t have to prove his worth or justify his beliefs. He proved his worth through his actions. He took advantage of every opportunity that was afforded to him, and he built a life in a country that he loves. That journey started for him here, in a county that I love. A county which represents everything that is good in my America. It’s ridiculous that I call it “my America,” I know. However, the America that I love is the same America that many loathe. I don’t understand why. I never will. I don’t want to understand. What I do understand is that I live in one of the most diverse and eclectic counties in America. There is nowhere I would rather be today, and I’m honored and in awe that a thirty-eight year old guy with the last name Deganian can represent this county’s bar association. I’m proof that the American dream is still alive and well in DeKalb County, and I intend to continue protecting it as your president and long after my term ends.