By Claire Kasaian
Staff Writer-Hye Sharzhoom
On March 18, more than 200 students, faculty, administrators, and members of the community joined together at the Fort Washington Country Club for the Armenian Studies Program 30th Annual Banquet.
The event celebrated the more than forty students who received Armenian Studies Program scholarships in 2017-2018. Students earning a minor in Armenian Studies, graduating seniors, and executive officers of the Armenian Students Organization were also recognized.
Special guests in attendance included Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro and Mrs. Mary Castro; Dean of the College of Arts & Humanities Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval; Kazan Visiting Professor Dr. Yektan Türkyilmaz, Fulbright Visiting Scholar Dr. Hayk Demoyan; and William Saroyan Home &Museum Project Coordinator Avag Simoyan.
Armenian Studies Program Director Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian delivered the opening remarks of the Banquet, stressing the important impact the Program has on its students. “This academic year the Program awarded $54,000 in scholarships to more than 40 students,” Prof. Der Mugrdechian remarked. “The scholarships make a meaningful impact by supporting deserving students.”
Haig and Isabel Berberian Professor of Armenian Studies Dr. Sergio LaPorta welcomed the attendees and affirmed that the success of the Armenian Studies Program was based both on the strength of student involvement and through the support of the community.
Dr. La Porta introduced Dean Dr. Jiménez-Sandoval and Associate Dean Dr. Honora Chapman, who spoke of the Armenian Studies Program’s remarkable influence on the community. “It took a thousand years and a lot of pain for you to be here as a community,” Dr. Jimenez-Sandoval observed. “One thing I have learned from the Armenians is to be aware and conscious of who you are, and then to take action.”
Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro highlighted the contribution that the Program makes to the university by attracting Armenian students and providing them with a variety of services. “I want to express my gratitude to all of you for making this Program the best of its kind in the country.”
The Armenian Studies Program gave special recognition to Warren and Lesa Paboojian, for establishing the Warren R. Paboojian Award for Student Editor of Hye Sharzhoom and to Robert Saroyan for establishing the Robert V. Saroyan Family Scholarship.
Paboojian, who was a writer for Hye Sharzoom, emphasized the importance of the paper. “Hye Sharzhoom provides a voice to students and I am pleased to be able to encourage students to continue to write for the paper.”
Rob Saroyan emphasized the importance of philanthropy and stated that he was motivated to establish a scholarship fund to give back to the university. “It is an inspiration for me to be able to invest in a program like the Armenian Studies Program,” said Saroyan.
Students shared reflections on their involvement in the Program and what it has meant to them. “Participating in the Armenian Studies Program has enriched my college experience more than I could ever imagine,” said Shelbie Ohanesian, a liberal studies major minoring in Armenia Studies. “I owe many thanks to my 91 year-old grandmother, Florence Ohanesian, who is here tonight. I remember sitting down at her kitchen table years ago and listening to the stories of her mother and father escaping the Armenian Genocide. Through the Program, I was able to reconnect with my heritage.”
Michael Rettig is graduating with his Master’s Degree in History. The Armenian Studies Program helped him develop his thesis topic based on his great-great-grandfather Thomas Mugerditchian’s career as Vice Consul in Diyarbekir. Rettig received the Outstanding Thesis Award from the Department of History.
“I grew up in Oakhurst, a small mountain town, without a strong connection to my Armenian roots. As far as I knew we were the only Armenians in the world. When I moved to Fresno, I discovered there were more of us and became interested in my culture. It was really the Armenian Studies Program at Fresno State that gave me the opportunity to dive into that history and background, ”Rettig stated. “From the classes I took, to the friends I’ve made, to the places I’ve traveled, the Armenian Studies Program has been integral to my development as a student and as a person.”
Marine Vardanyan is graduating with a Master’s Degree in Education in the Educational Leadership and Administration option. Her senior project was on “Identity, Belonging, & Armenian Studies: Exploring the Program’s Role in Students’ Lives.”
“The Armenian Studies Program gave me a purpose on campus and it allowed me to connect with my university beyond just attending classes and going home. It allowed me to build a network of friends who helped each other navigate through college.
It helped me learn more about our rich history and culture, it opened my eyes to the strength of our Fresno-Armenian community who supports our program and our students.”
The ASP Annual Banquet provided a warm atmosphere for all to enjoy each other’s company while celebrating the student achievements.