Victor Hakopian, 2003 Freida J. Riley Award

Written by on May 15, 2003 in 2003, Educator, Frieda J. Riley Award

Victor Hackopian

Victor Hakopian

Jean Parker Elementary School
San Francisco, California

The recipient of the 4th annual $10,000 Freida J. Riley Teacher Award was Victor Hakopian, a special education teacher at Jean Parker Elementary School in San Francisco, California. Mr. Hakopian received the award at the Opening Ceremony for Space Day 2003 at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Hakopian was born with a rare eye disease. He underwent 25 operations by the age of six, and consequently his eyes were irreparably damaged, and he is legally blind.

High school was the turning point in Victor’s life, when he tried out for his high school wrestling team. In his last two years of high school, he was ranked in the top ten wrestlers in the State of California.

In 1992 Victor graduated from the University of California, Irvine with a BA in psychology, and in 1994 earned a Master’s degree from San Francisco State with a dual credential in elementary and special education.

Victor began his teaching career at Balboa High School in San Francisco, a tough inner-city school. The school had problems with truancy, violence, low motivation and unstable family situations. Victor realized that it was imperative to reach the students at a much earlier age to instill self-confidence and provide a positive atmosphere for learning.

He became an inclusion teacher at Jean Parker Elementary. In his classroom he tries to reinforce the idea that everyone is equal regardless of their culture, race, gender, economic status or disability. He makes a point to foster openness to new experiences, empathy for people from all walks of life and an ability to think critically. He wants his students to have the confidence to take risks, and know his classroom is a safe haven where they can do so. He expects only excellence.

Being disabled at a young age, Victor had to overcome prejudice from peers and society as well as family cultural beliefs. However, he learned that his destiny was in his own hands and he continually worked toward his goals. Victor feels he has accomplished everything he set out to achieve. His dream was to be fully integrated into society-to be acknowledged as a person first, and a person with a disability second.

Victor said: “I leave my house every morning to work in a profession that uses my mind and positively impacts others’ lives. I feel that the theme of my life has been contribution. The more that I am able to contribute to society, the richer my life becomes.”


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