The Gift of Education: Students and Alumni Gather to Express Gratitude to Zaven and Sonia Akian

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YEREVAN, Armenia – On May 30th, 70 students, and 42 alumni, in addition to faculty and staff of the American University of Armenia (AUA), participated in a luncheon for Zaven and Sonia Akian in honor of the many contributions they have made to AUA. The luncheon kicked off a series of events to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the AUA.

Arqayadzor Restaurant was buzzing with excitement as AUA students, alumni, staff, and faculty awaited for the arrival of Mr. & Mrs. Akian who have provided scholarships to over 200 recipients from 2010-2015 from the Akian Family Foundation.

Mr. Akian is a member of the AUA Board of Trustees and has been involved with the University since its inception in 1991. In 2010, AUA opened the Akian Gallery in the University’s Paramaz Avedisian Building, which was made possible by a generous donation from the Akian Family Foundation. That same year, the Akians made a five-year commitment to provide AUA students with academic scholarships, demonstrating their continued support of the University.

One of the students currently receiving the scholarship, Sevag Agop class of 2018, stated, “After I had escaped the war in Syria, I came here to Armenia and didn’t know what to do. An advisor at AGBU suggested that I apply to study at AUA, and it has been wonderful since, more than I ever expected. I never felt like a student from abroad, and this was the best opportunity for me to integrate in Armenia. Mr. Akian is like the godfather of all of us scholarship recipients. Without him, I would not have this opportunity to study, so this was really like a gift from heaven. The words are not enough to describe the gratitude I have, and if I had the chance in the future, I would pay him back by helping other students.”

AUA President Armen Der Kiureghian introduced Dr. Lawrence H. Pitts, the chair of AUA’s board of trustees, to give his welcoming remarks, followed by AUA Adjunct Faculty and a good friend of the Akians, Mimi Zarookian. Earlier, when asked about the Akians’ commitment to Armenia, she explained how the Akian family members have been connected to Armenia for a very long time. Their daughters volunteered with the Land and Culture NGO, and their son who is an accomplished pianist had studied music in Yerevan.

Ms. Zarookian stated, “The Akians continue to support AUA generously with their heart and their spirit. They recognize that the future of Armenia depends on educating our current students.”

The scholarship recipients presented toasts and shared their personal life journeys. Each story had a similar theme: contributing back to AUA. The majority of the speakers promised to give back in a similar fashion as the Akians, to pave the way for future students in Armenia to succeed and work together to build a better future for the country. Not only have the Akians financially supported over 200 former and current students to receive a higher education in Armenia, but their philanthropic efforts have introduced a culture of giving back to Armenia. Two of the alumni , sisters Gayane and Hripsime Shabunts, who received scholarships gave a speech during the luncheon. They subsequently founded their own language school in 2012. Since then, they received a number of prizes for high professional standing. The Shabunts sisters are known throughout the global Armenian Diaspora community for their charitable efforts, and being actively involved in giving free classes to children of victims of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

After the speeches, Mr. Akian reflected on their family’s mission to support higher education and provide opportunities for young Armenians. He stated, “We want to thank those who founded AUA 25 years ago including the University of California, and honor Ms. Louise Manoogian Simon of AGBU for assisting in creating this great University. I grew up in an AGBU family in Lebanon, and had the privilege of being educated at the American University of Beirut. To me, helping in any way that I could to assist a University such as the American University of Armenia was very important to me and my family. We are committed to helping the young innovators of Armenia. Out of the devastating earthquakes resulting in chaos in 1988, I was here shortly after to help many families and orphans, and my wife has always been behind me.”

Mr. Akian continued with a message to all the recipients, “I want you all to excel in your life, volunteer and give back to your communities and especially AUA. Inspire your peers, and know that those challenges you face will not stand in the way of you pursuing your goals. Please honor the legacy and character of the American University of Armenia which promotes our young Armenians to exemplary leadership, drive, and above all, unique integrity and citizenship. Please remember that we are the seekers of truth, and not people that tolerate lies and injustice. We find solutions and don’t contribute to the problem, we love knowledge and are destined for greatness. We are the sons and daughters of the American University of Armenia.”

Following a standing ovation, Dr. Lawrence Pitts then gave his closing remarks where he personally thanked the Akians for their tremendous support to AUA. He continued to express his gratitude regarding students and alumni making strides towards giving back and developing a charitable nature. Dr. Pitts also emphasized the importance of keeping a tight network within the AUA community to support one another towards greater success.


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 US-style 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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