He found out the only way he'd have a shot at getting in was an exceptionally high SAT score.
"He was a smart enough guy where he was able to get an amazing score on the test and get admitted," Papanyan said. "However, that wasn't enough. They didn't have enough funds to cover the tuition for the first year."
Azarian sold land left to him by his father, invested, and sold again, eventually generating enough money to cover his first year's tuition. He majored in electrical engineering and started earning scholarships.
In 2002, Azarian was recruited to work for National Instruments in Austin, Texas, where he met Papanyan.
"We went to an event, actually a lecture about Greek architecture, and somehow I think I asked a question related to Armenia," Papanyan said. Azarian, whose father was Armenian, approached Papanyan after the lecture. "That’s how we struck our friendship in Austin, and we've been best friends since then."
Azarian spent eight years in Austin, designing radio technology and other wireless circuitry.
"He was extremely gifted when it came to problem-solving," said Papanyan, who worked for Dell at the time. "The regular puzzles it would take me a day to solve, he could solve it in the blink of an eye."
Outside of work, Azarian's passions led him away from circuit boards and into nature. Papanyan said his friend was elated when he got a new job -- for Linear Technology -- and moved to San Jose in 2014.
"He loved to travel. He loved photography. He loved hiking quite a bit," Papanyan said. He added that Azarian told him he'd hiked almost every weekend in Silicon Valley and "never had to repeat a trail."
But he left a community of friends in Texas, including one associated with the Armenian Church of Austin.
"For those of you who had the pleasure of knowing Michel, he had the kindest heart and an incredible lust for life," wrote Mihran Aroian, parish council chairman for the church, in an announcement of Azarian's death. "He was also an active globetrotter and a brilliant photographer. He had a robust appreciation both for the quiet beauty in nature along with fun adventures and laughter with friends."
Azarian's Instagram feed contains a mix of landscape photography, vibrant natural close-ups and some urban/architectural shots. Papanyan said the bulk of Azarian's photos are believed to have been stored on his home computer, destroyed in the fire.