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Everywhere She Turns, Honor Student Finds Something to Get Excited About

February 25, 1988|MARILYN MARTINEZ | Times Staff Writer

Tammy Ketabgian sits down at the piano and launches into a prelude and fugue by Bach. And although she plays the piece from memory, she declares herself unsatisfied.

"I'm just learning this piece," she said. "I don't have it down." And then she begins the piece again.

The energy that Ketabgian puts into her music is just one of the characteristics that helped the La Canada High School senior win honors from the L. A. County Commission on Youth earlier this month.

Ketabgian was among 20 youths awarded the Los Angeles County Outstanding Youth Award for "commitment to their community and as role models to their peers."

Ketabgian has also won a National Council of English Teachers Award and has received early admission to Harvard University. She is a member of the National Honor Society, a hospital volunteer and an editor on her high school paper.

"It sounds like more than it really is," Ketabgian said, in unwilling acknowledgment of her accomplishments.

"She has a real fine mind," said Clover Moffat, a guidance counselor at La Canada High School who nominated Ketabgian for her most recent award. "She's extremely talented and willing to share her talents with other students."

If the 18-year-old Ketabgian could be said to be most passionate about any one interest, it would be language.

"I like to write, fiction and journalism," she said. "It's good to get experience on both sides."

She is also an avid reader. "Right now I'm into existential reading like Camus' 'The Stranger' and Sartre. But I'm really eclectic, I read everything."

Determined to wake up La Canada High School's student body to the significance of politics, Ketabgian and a few friends have founded a school political club called Pax Omnibus, Latin for Peace for All. The club's goals are to educate students through guest speakers and a newsletter.

"Students tend to be so insular," she said, dangling her bare feet from the piano bench. "They need to be aware of politics. I don't just mean national politics but also local, like the sludge problem in Santa Monica."

Ketabgian would also like to spread the word on global political situations she feels are under-reported, such as the state of civil liberties in Tibet.

"Everyone knows about the Contras and South Africa," she said. "But no one talks about the situation in Tibet and how the U.S. government overlooks it."

And of course there is her music. She has played the piano for 11 years, and shares her musical talent with residents at Sierra Bonita retirement home in Pasadena and with the congregation at St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Pasadena where she also teaches Sunday school.

"My parents sort of made me take it up but I don't regret it," Ketabgian said.

One of the authors who has especially inspired Ketabgian is Armenian author William Saroyan, who appeals to her love of literature and her pride in her heritage.

"My parents always said, 'Don't forget you are Armenian,' " Ketabgian said. Her father, Gregory, a physician, was born in Aleppo, Syria, and her mother, Alice, was born in Istanbul, Turkey.

Ketabgian displays confidence about her future, while remaining practical.

"I could be really starry-eyed and say 'I want to be a writer, but maybe I'll be an academician," she said. "I don't know. I guess I could be anything at this point."

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