Michelle Mogannam lives life on the edge

By Evelyn Archibald and Mytrisha Sarmiento 

Staff Editors

When Michelle Mogannam, the tenth grade history teacher at Summit Shasta, was asked about one of her most treasured memories, she was unconvinced at first. “What? Oh, god, there’s so many,” she said. “Who has a favorite memory?” She asked, dubious. 

But after thinking, she smiled and said, “My grandpa, he was a really important figure in my life growing up. He was my sister’s and [my] best friend …  He would dress up as Santa every year when we were growing up, and he was just like, the epitome of just, awesome.” 

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Michelle Mogannam remembers her grandfather’s influence in her life. Photo Credit: Evelyn Archibald

She recalled a particular day with her grandfather in her childhood, “He took us out on a bike ride in Los Altos one night, for one day. And my grandma was super pissed, because she was like, that’s super dangerous, because we didn’t have [three] bikes. We only had [one] for him and then one for my older sister. So then I biked on the — what’s that called?” She grasped for the word, “The place in between the seat and the handlebars. And so I was literally just, in that area, just kind of crushed up, and he was sitting on the seat — and he was just super cool.”

“We went down this really big hill and we almost — I almost, like, died, I almost fell forward.” Ms. Mogannam laughed as she remembered the thrill of it. “But then it was really fine cause I just remember feeling really free and happy. I have a distinct moment of feeling super, super happy and free.” She paused, reflecting. “And I don’t — I think that was the first time that I had confronted those concepts of… happiness and freedom in my life, thus far. I’m just rolling down this hill, with my grandpa and my sister and just, knowing that this is super dangerous, but I’m doing it.” 

This comfort in letting loose followed Ms. Mogannam from that moment on. “That’s kind of like how I live my life, on the edge all the time. I think it’s important to take risks and I think that’s how we learn, we take risks and then if they don’t pan out, they don’t, and if they do, great!”

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Ms. Mogannam describes her childhood, “just chaos everywhere.” Photo Credit: Evelyn Archibald

Ms. Mogannam’s life has played out with the balance of control and tumult, expression and limitation, rebellion and responsibility. With contradictory yet complimentary attributes, she isn’t someone who can be defined simply, and tends to subvert expectations by nature. 

Growing up, Ms. Mogannam lived in San Jose with her parents and sister. “My parents were really young […] when they had my sister and I — they got married after six months. They were in their 20s, so I actually was raised by really young parents who were trying to figure everything out.” 

Her father was what she describes as “a wannabe bodybuilder”, and her mother operated a daycare out of their home. “I grew up with about 20 kids around me at all moments of the day, if I wasn’t in school.” She said helping her mother with childcare, “might be where I learned my love for kids, and knowledge, and teaching and things like that.” 

“I would say my childhood was really — chaotic, I would say that’s the one word that describes my childhood, just chaos everywhere,” she said. “Coming home was just chaotic because I couldn’t just come home to my house. It was, like, kids at my house constantly, and I had to help my mom, […] I think it was very stressful.”

On the other side of that, Ms. Mogannam acknowledged, “I got a lot of ways to leave my house.” She said, “There was a lot of, I would say, going out and playing. I lived in a court, so I would go and play with my neighbors and we would, like, roam the streets. It was the 90’s,” she said, “there was a lot of attention to the outdoors.” 

She also started dancing — something that would become a life-long love — at a local studio during her childhood. It became a kind of escape for Ms. Mogannam. “I would go to dance class after school so I didn’t have to worry about …  like the stresses of life [at my] home.”

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Ms. Mogannam lives her life “with a really strong moral basis.” Photo Credit: Evelyn Archibald

Ms. Mogannam’s set of personal values has contributed greatly to teaching her history classes, which focuses on human rights and authoritarianism. “I have a very strong …  belief system in general,” she said. “I think morals [are] a really key thing that’s been involved in my life … and that could be because [of] my faith or whatever, but I like to live my life really morally, with a really strong moral basis.” 

She has also expressed her skepticism of authority, and how that translated to her in high school. “I always had issues with people who were supposed to be in these … positions of authority but then not exemplifying those qualities that I think they should. So I was a very rebellious teen. I would get in fights a lot. I did a lot of stuff.”

“I was in the tough crowd,” she said, “like the little indie crowd who listened to indie music, who wore scene hair and — my hair was blue and pink and purple, and I didn’t listen to teachers and I was just totally rebellious for sure.” Ms. Mogannam laughed and pretended to whisper, “But then there was a side of me that was very, very responsible, like I always did my homework. But nobody knew that.” 

“I’m not rebellious anymore. Or I don’t know, maybe I am! Who knows?” She teased. 

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Ms. Mogannam recalls her ‘rebellious’ phase. Photo Credit: Evelyn Archibald

One of Ms. Mogannam’s “really deep interests” — and outlets for expression — is writing poetry. She said that she has been writing since she was 15 years old, and tries to write whenever she has a break. “It’s actually like a huge outlet for me in terms of like, stress and also — I’m not a very emotional person,” she said. “I wasn’t raised to be emotional. So it’s a way to capture I think like some of my more emotional side, which I don’t share to, really, anyone.” 

Ms. Mogannam now lives in San Francisco, and finds joy in the city. She even said that for self care, she likes to clear her mind by taking long, wandering walks through her neighborhood. “I don’t really go anywhere. I just walk and I observe, I listen to music. I lesson-plan in my head. I think walking is super important.” 

Though Ms. Mogannam would say she’s both a night owl and a morning person, mornings are “her time”. To find what she describes as the “most beautiful” time to see the city — though she acknowledged the city is “always beautiful” — Ms. Mogannam likes to rise early. “I would say early, early morning, gotta get up at like, 5am, sit in your room, and just listen. That’s what I do on the weekend.” 

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Ms. Mogannam on leadership, “I can be a leader, I just don’t put myself in those roles.” Photo Credit: Evelyn Archibald

“But my spirit animal is an owl,” she clarified. “I had a vision one time, and I was an owl, so I’m an owl.” She laughed, “So actually you’re — an owl is teaching you, not a human. Just in case you guys were confused or worried. I’m actually an owl.”

“I’m totally a follower,” Ms. Mogannam said. “But I always end up in a — in some sort of authority position.” She reflected, “I taught at San Francisco State when I was younger, which was actually really, really fun. But I was kind of like a leader there. I would say [I was] kind of like the head — one of the head graduate student teachers.” 

“I can be a leader, I just don’t put myself in those roles. I guess my whole job is a leader, so —” she paused as she came across this realization, “yeah, I never really thought about that.” 

As a final piece of advice to students, Ms. Mogannam said, “Just trust that things are gonna work out, because they always do.” She added, “Also …  we’re kind of like detectives, and I think our lives are like puzzles, and we have to go through, and we might not know what the reason is or construct meaning in that moment, but we will afterward. And I think we have to just realize like, there is an end goal and there is some — there is rhyme and reason and rationale.”

She continued, “I think the world is rational, and I think we as people — as human beings — have to not just see things that happen to us as like, ‘oh wow I’m so misfortuned’ and, you know as negative experiences, but take them as growing experiences and like, ‘oh, this is actually positive.’”

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Ms. Mogannam encourages students to “be detectives” in life. Photo Credit: Evelyn Archibald

Ms. Mogannam considered for a moment, and suggested, “I mean kind of construct the meaning in your head and be a detective and figure out like, what’s your next move? And where are you gonna go?” She smiled and said, “So I think like, just go with the flow. Life’s frickin’ awesome. Just go, just do it.”

Feature Image(at top of page): Michelle Mogannam considers her past in an interview. (Photo Credit: Evelyn Archibald)

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