YEREVAN, Armenia – On June 3, the American University of Armenia (AUA) held its inaugural undergraduate and twenty-fifth commencement ceremonies, in which over 400 students received their bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The ceremonies also welcomed graduates’ families and friends, the AUA Board of Trustees, dignitaries from the Armenian government, ambassadors, representatives from local and foreign organizations, and guests from the Armenian Diaspora.
The morning began with the playing of the traditional graduation musical score, Pomp and Circumstance, and was followed by an invocation delivered by His Grace Bishop Gevorg Saroyan, Supervisor of Religious and Higher Education Institutions of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. Thereafter, the ceremonies were led by AUA President Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian, also one of the University’s co-founders.
“The founding of AUA in 1991 was a bold move at a difficult time in Armenia’s history. This is a special day of celebration for faculty, students, parents, and all the organizations and individuals who have worked towards the establishment and development of this institution,” said Dr. Der Kiureghian. He also highlighted the ways in which the University has grown its facilities threefold over the last 25 years, with modern classrooms, auditoria, offices and other facilities. Specifically, Dr. Der Kiureghian cited the modern collaborative study area, AUA’s first tiered classroom, and the Entrepreneurship & Product Innovation Center (EPIC), including its new classrooms and laboratories that were inaugurated last year. Founders, supporters, administrative staff, and faculty were also called on to be recognized for their efforts and many years of service to the University. His remarks were followed by a greeting from the University of California, with which AUA is affiliated, read by the Chair of AUA’s Board of Trustees, Dr. Lawrence H. Pitts.
In a heartfelt moment, Dr. Der Kiureghian addressed the graduates and asked that their family members also stand to be recognized for “their continuous hard work and sacrifices,” which helped students achieve their educational goals. In turn, he congratulated the graduates once again and encouraged them to think of ways to give back to their families, communities, and nation as they go forward.
The keynote address to the 190 undergraduates was delivered by Impact Hub Yerevan Co-founder and CEO Sara Anjargolian who encouraged graduates to find their passions and pursue them. Finally she added, “Changes in this country will only be made by those who show up and raise their voice.”
Ms. Anjargolian was followed with valedictory addresses in both Armenian and English. The address in Armenian was delivered by Mikayel Arzumanyan, a business student: “Studying at AUA has been a journey, during which we became a family. Here, we learned how to meet expectations, gained the skills we need to deal with any given situation, and we learned how to communicate clearly and express ourselves.” He was followed by Nare Hovhannisyan, an English and Communications student, who delivered the English address. “Spending four years in the classroom, hallways, and library of AUA has changed our identities, given us the chance to meet inspiring people, discover new interests, and created long-lasting friendships,” Nare stated in her remarks.
Later in the day, Professor Dr. Naira Hovakimyan of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign delivered the keynote address to the graduating class of graduate students. The 210 students listened as Professor Hovakimyan urged them to dream, have the vision to realize their dreams, be resilient and pursue their set paths and strategies with courage. “The future is nothing more than what we create,” she added.
The ceremonies were highlighted by the inaugural bestowal of the AUA Presidential Commendation award to Edward Avedisian, an AUA Trustee and major benefactor of the University. As stated on the Commendation, it was “In recognition of extraordinary achievements and distinguished service in the advancement of education in Armenia.” Mr. Avedisian’s myriad philanthropic works were buttressed by his notable professional career as a musician, university professor, and investor. His gift to the University led to the building of the Paramaz Avedisian Building, named for his late brother.
The Presidential Commendation award was succeeded by two Teaching Excellence Prizes, which were awarded to Irshat Madyarov, Program Chair and Associate Professor of the Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Foreign Language Program, and Vardan Baghdasaryan, Assistant Professor at the Manoogian Simone College of Business and Economics. The year was also marked by the establishment of the Staff Excellence in Service and Balian scholarship awards. The recipients of the Staff Excellence in Service award were Gayane Sargsyan, System Administrator from the Information and Communication Technologies Services, Robert Gyulumyan, Senior Accountant from Financial Services, and Hasmik Galstyan, Head of Reference/Circulation Department of the AGBU Papazian Library. The recipient of the 2017 Balian Scholarship award was Tigran Mamikonyan from the Master of Science in Computer and Information Science program. This year, four faculty research grant awards were awarded on a competitive basis to Narek Mkrthchyan and Marina Dodogovic from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Gurgen Khachatryan from the Zaven and Sonia Akian College of Science and Engineering, Knar Khachatryan and Aleksandr Grigoryan from the Manoogian Simone College of Business and Economics, and Stefan Schlafer from the Acopian Center for the Environment. The faculty research grant awards were made possible thanks to the Hemayak Setrakian Endowment, as well as donations from Sam Simonian and Sinan Sinanian.
Special acknowledgments were also extended to those individuals and organizations who make it possible for AUA students to pursue their educations irrespective of the financial status. In particular, the Turpanjian Family Educational Foundation and the Akian Family Foundation scholarship programs were highlighted as key supporters in the University’s full-need and need-blind admission policy and commitment to accessible education.
“The depth and detail of what we are learning at AUA is far beyond my high school experience in Russia. Professors here not just demand but teach you, they encourage you to learn and awaken your sense of responsibility. Here, you gain knowledge and skills that will come in handy in your career; you meet friends for life; you find a second home,” English and Communications undergraduate student Mariam Mkrtchyan said.
Pattyl Vartanian, a student from the English and Communications program who came to AUA from Saudi Arabia, added, “ Studying at AUA is a privilege. I received my degree with integrity and professionalism. The University provided me with the best quality of education that I’m sure will guide me towards a better life in the future.”
The commencement ceremonies were the appropriate coda to an exceptional year for the University. Topping the long list of accomplishments was the creation of two new degree programs: the Bachelor of Science in Engineering Sciences and the Master of Science in Strategic Management. Additionally, this academic year saw the establishment of the Center for Creative Writing and an AUA Extension office in Vanadzor.
Generous support for the University from a number of sources, including two capacity-building grants from the Erasmus+ program, the 25th Anniversary Gala celebration in Los Angeles that raised over $1.5 million for student scholarships, a $999,000 grant from American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) program of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for the construction of a student residence facility, the establishment of a $1 million scholarship by the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative for students from certain countries in the Middle East, and the 100 Pillars program and other philanthropic giving.
As AUA bids success to its graduates, it looks forward to the coming academic year with hope and high expectations.
Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia and affiliated with the University of California. AUA provides a global education in Armenia and the region, offering high-quality, graduate and undergraduate studies, encouraging civic engagement, and promoting public service and democratic values.