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AUA Celebrates Its Twenty-Sixth Commencement Ceremony

YEREVAN, Armenia – On June 9, 2018, the American University of Armenia (AUA) held its second undergraduate and twenty-sixth graduate commencement ceremonies, during which over 500 students received their bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The ceremonies also welcomed graduates’ families and friends, the AUA’s Board of Trustees, dignitaries from the Armenian government, ambassadors, representatives from local and foreign organizations, and guests from the Armenian Diaspora.

Both ceremonies started with the playing of the traditional graduation musical score, Pomp and Circumstance, which was followed by AUA President Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian’s welcoming remarks. He noted that commencement day is a “celebration for faculty, students, parents, and all the organizations and individuals who have worked towards the establishment and development of this institution.” He called on AUA founders, supporters, administrative staff, and faculty to be recognized for their efforts and many years of service to the University. Dr. Der Kiureghian highlighted the continuous support of the Ministry of Education, the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), the University of California (UC), with which AUA is affiliated, as well as the American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) program of the US Agency for International Development, whose most recent donation of $650,000 made it possible to construct a student union, faculty center, and open amphitheater adjacent to the Paramaz Avedisian Building (PAB).

Following the President’s remarks, Dr. Lawrence H. Pitts, the Chair of AUA’s Board of Trustees and the former Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs of the UC system, was given the floor to extend greetings from the University of California. He concluded his speech with words of gratitude: “The AUA Board of Trustees thanks each of you for working so hard to make your time at AUA successful – and we also thank your families and the AUA faculty and staff for supporting you and helping you succeed.”

Dr. Der Kiureghian later reflected on the important achievements AUA graduates scored during the past year. He also addressed the graduates’ family members and asked them to stand to be recognized for “their continuous hard work and sacrifices,” which helped students achieve their educational goals. Once again congratulating the graduates for earning an undergraduate degree, he encouraged them to think of ways to give back to their families, communities, and nations as they go forward. Dr. Der Kiureghian also noted the role of AUA alumni in the future of AUA and Armenia. He named the few AUA alumni who currently serve as ministers in the newly-formed government, as well as mentioned the Alumni Scholarship Endowment Fund ‒ a generous undertaking established by the AUA class of 1993.    

The keynote address to undergraduate students was delivered by Dr. Noubar Afeyan, an inventor, entrepreneur and CEO, co-founder of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative and more than 40 successful startups, which aim to improve human health and global sustainability. In addition to engagement in philanthropic initiatives, Dr. Afeyan also serves on the boards of the AGBU, the IDeA Foundation, and the UWC Dilijan International School. He encouraged the graduating students to think about their future and ask themselves what will matter most in their lives. Trying to answer his own question, Dr. Afeyan looked back on his 35-year journey after graduation and shared his observations: “Learning is a skill that you acquired when you were here. I think your challenge would be how to make that skill into a habit, because if you think that you are done learning, then chances are that all the things that might matter will shrink very quickly.”

The undergraduate commencement ceremony proceeded with valedictory addresses by Raffi Sahakyan, candidate of Bachelor of Arts in Business (BAB), and Iren Stepanyan, candidate of Bachelor of English and Communications (E&C), in Armenian and English respectively. In his speech, Sahakyan urged his fellow-undergraduates to become beneficent change-makers, to inspire others to educate, and to conquer their dreams. According to Stepanyan, “what makes AUA an absolutely incredible place are the people.” She mentioned the people they shared classes with, the ones who taught and inspired them, who helped them find their voices, and the people who worked tirelessly to insure the best educational environment.

This year, Dr. Der Kiureghian bestowed the AUA Presidential Commendation award to Dr. William R. Frazer, a member of AUA’s Board of Trustees, Senior Vice President, Emeritus of the UC system, Professor of Physics Emeritus, UC Berkeley. The Commendation read: “In recognition of his decisive role in establishing the American University of Armenia and his leadership as the Founding Chair of the Board of Trustees.” Not being able to join the commencement ceremony in person, Dr. Frazer acknowledged this award in a video address. He thanked Dr. Der Kiureghian and asked the graduating students, “to remain involved with AUA, to remain part of the family, to become active alumni, because without your support, the university cannot achieve its full potential.”

Later in the afternoon, Kathleen Dracup, PhD, RN, Professor and Dean Emerita of UC San Francisco (UCSF), School of Nursing, delivered her keynote address to the graduate class of 2018. She is recognized nationally and internationally to be a leader in the field of cardiovascular nursing. In her speech, Dr. Dracup shared with the guests her personal story of overcoming challenges in career choice. Addressing the graduate students, she remarked: “Armed with the knowledge and critical thinking skills that you have gained while a student at this university, you will challenge the status quo, discover new and better ways to do things, and make important contributions to your field and to your country.”

Tina Kharatyan, candidate of Master of Political Science and International Affairs (PSIA), and Astine Badeyan, candidate of Master of Laws (LL.M.), made their valedictory remarks at the graduate commencement ceremony. First, in Armenian, Kharatyan said that the University gave her more than just knowledge, saying AUA broadened her horizons, taught her to analyze rather than criticize, and not to be ashamed for not knowing something, but to search and find answers she did not have. Then Badeyan delivered her speech in English proudly noting: “It is no exaggeration to state that AUA is different from many perspectives. It is liberal and student-oriented, and I am sure that we ‒ graduates have built the conviction during all these years that entering this university has been one of our best decisions.”

Three other awards, namely Vartkess M. Balian Merit Award, Teaching Excellence Awards, and Faculty Research Awards, were bestowed to outstanding AUA students and faculty. The Vartkess M. Balian Merit Award, which is established to recognize the best overall performance among AUA students, was presented to Zohrab Ghazarian from the Master of Laws (LL.M.) program. The recipients of this year’s Teaching Excellence Awards were Ara Chalabyan from the Manoogian Simone College of Business and Economics and Habet Madoyan from Zaven and Sonia Akian College of Science and Engineering. Upon receiving the award, Chalabyan generously announced that he would equally split the monetary award associated with receiving the grant between the AUA Alumni Endowment Fund and the Arar Foundation, which is installing solar panels at military posts on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan. He noted that the reason for this is because the two areas most important to him are Armenia’s national security and education. Five Faculty Research Awards were presented to Gurgen Aslanyan: Taxing Waistline as a Treatment for Metabolic Syndrome: A Research Proposal; Hrant Davtyan: Structuring Financial Documents through Artificial Intelligence (AI); Irena Galikyan, Irshat Madyarov, Marina Dodigovic: Developing a Vocabulary Size Test in Eastern Armenian as a Foreign Language; Vahram Ter-Matevosyan: Being a Minority in a De Facto State: The Armenian Community in Abkhazia; and Armenak Antinyan, Vardan Baghdasaryan: Parent-School Information Gaps and Education Outcomes: A Randomized Controlled Trial in the Republic of Armenia. The Teaching Excellence and Faculty Research Awards are made possible thanks to the support of the Hemayak Setrakian Endowment and generous donations by Sam and Sylva Simonian.

The commencement ceremonies were crowned by the triumphal conferrals of certificates and degrees to the undergraduate and graduate classes of 2018. Wishing success to the graduates, in his final remarks Dr. Der Kiureghian expressed confidence that they will meet the high expectations of the University and their country and that AUA will be proud of their achievements.

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.

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