BY ALEEN ARSLANIAN
The Glendale Unified School District held the inaugural ceremony in honor of Armenian American Heritage Month on April 22 at Hoover High School. More than 100 students, parents, and community members gathered to attend two panel discussions, watch performances by dance ensembles, and take part in interactive breakout sessions with panelists.
In 2022, the Board of Education unanimously adopted a resolution officially recognizing April as Armenian American Heritage Month in GUSD. The resolution was spearheaded by Glendale Unified parent Ani Adjemian, Esq., who Superintendent Dr. Vivian Ekchian introduced as the day’s emcee.
In her opening remarks, Adjemian, quoting Armenian poet Paruy Sevag, said, “We are few, but we are called Armenian.” To live in the diaspora, she said, is “to exist in a dual identity,” as she discussed the Armenian American experience.
The event opened with a flag ceremony performed by the Homenetment Ararat scouts, followed by a performance of the Armenian and American national anthems by the Hoover High School choir.
In attendance at the inaugural ceremony were: former Glendale Mayor Ardy Kassakhian; Glendale City councilmember Paula Devine; Glendale Unified Board President Nayiri Nahabedian; Director of Teaching and Learning at GUSD Lena Kortoshian: Glendale Unified Board of Education Clerk Shant Sahakian; Glendale Unified Board members Jennifer Freedman, and Ingrid Gunnel; ANCA Glendale Chairperson Lucy Petrosian; ANCA Glendale Board member Armik Avedissian; Glendale City Clerk Suzie Abajian; and high school and elementary school students from the district.
According to Kortoshian, who spoke to Asbarez at the event, in previous years two former Board members would organize Armenian Heritage events at Glendale High School. However, she said Dr. Ekchian had a “different vision for this year.”
“Dr. Ekchian wanted Armenians and innovation. Based on her vision, we put a committee together and started moving.” said Kortoshian. “These panels are really going to help the students understand what’s next for them. For high school students, they’re going to look at these inventors as role models. They’re going to see that they can do it, too. They need to persevere. It’s very important for them to understand that there’s life after high school, and why not be innovators? Start something new. Create something new.”
Keynote speaker Dr. Shushan Karapetyan, Director of the USC Dornsife Institute of Armenian Studios and a mother to two GUSD students, discussed her own GUSD experience in her keynote address. She described how, when she was only 13-years-old, her family made their way to the United States from Armenia. Upon entering into the Glendale Unified school system, she quickly learned that the district offered special services and classes for newly enrolled, non-English speaking students — namely Armenians, as Armenians have made up a demographic majority in Glendale for some time now.
“Your Armenian heritage is an organic part of who you are. It is an inseparable part of who you are and should be valued and cherished,” was the message received by “young Shushan” from the GUSD, said Dr. Karapetyan. She wrapped up her presentation by discussing the success that is GUSD’s Dual Language program — the only of its kind —and played a video of her younger daughter discussing the solar system, in Armenian, with a GUSD teacher.
Throughout the day’s program, there were dance and musical performances, including: Lernazang, a nonprofit organization, cultural collective, and performance ensemble who performed live, presenting Western Armenian dances; a duduk performance by Hoover High School student Davit Mikayelyan; a performance by Ararat Dance Group; and a performance by the Davidian & Mariamian Foundation choir. Halfway through the program, Ararat Dance Group taught attendees a few traditional Armenian dances.
The two panel discussions held throughout the day featured Armenian American speakers from all walks of life, including artists, businessmen, entrepreneurs, and city officials. Both panels were moderated by GUSD students Davit Harutyunyan, Sarkis Ter Martirosyan, and Christiana Arutyunyan.
The first panel featured head of AGBU Innovation Studios Nare Avagyan, co-founder and CEO of Expper Technologies Karén Khachikyan, founder and CEO of Embodied Inc. Dr. Paolo Pirjanian, filmmaker and founder of Friendly Filmworks Ara Soudjian, and chef and author of “Lavash” Armenian cookbook Ara Zada. The panelists discussed their inspirations and how they worked their way into their respective fields.
“I think it’s great having these events and having Armenians from all professional walks of life come together and share their experiences and successes, and help the next generation of Armenian American leaders,” said Soudjian.
The second panel consisted of speakers who are GUSD alumni, including KTLA 5 reporter and Glendale High School graduate Ellina Abovian; former Glendale Mayor, and GHS graduate, councilmember Ardy Kassakhian; and Executive Director of the Armenian American Museum and Glendale Unified Board of Education Clerk Shant Sahakian, who graduated from Hoover High School. The three discussed how attending GUSD schools shaped them and helped achieve their personal goals.
During both panels, the speakers offered students career advice and discussed the ways in which their work has impacted the Armenian community, and how the Armenian communities they were raised in inspired their own work.
“I am incredibly grateful for our dedicated students, employees, parents, and community partners who helped organize this amazing event, and to our talented presenters, panelists, and performers,” said Dr. Ekchian. “Recognizing April as Armenian-American Heritage Month and hosting this event are very important to me and to our school district. It is a special opportunity for our students to celebrate Armenian culture and gain exposure to talented Armenians and Armenian Americans who are experts in their fields and have built their own career paths in innovative and creative industries. We’re not only talking about the past, we’re inspiring our young leaders to achieve their aspirational goals, provide service to their community, and become role models for future generations.”
The inaugural ceremony featured breakout sessions with Avagyan, Khachikyan, Dr. Pirjanian, Soudjian, and Zada, as well as a “Storytime” session with author and producer Steve Boyadzhyan and art lessons with artist and entrepreneur Arpi Krikorian.
During the breakout sessions, attendees had the opportunity to meet with the panelists, participate in their interactive presentations, and ask questions about their current projects and careers. The sessions were held in different classrooms throughout the school’s campus.
Throughout the event, attendees had the opportunity to network, learn more about Armenian American heritage, and shop from Krikorian’s Armenian inspired merchandise collection while enjoying freshly brewed Armenian coffee, which was provided by Armo Coffee of Creative Balloons LA.