BY GAIANEH AVANESSIAN
Text message: Allen Yekikian died in a car accident. What? This can’t be real. Stealthily check my Facebook during a meeting and see confirmation via the Asbarez post. I feel the color drain from my face. I stand up, shake the hand of the recruiter and politely excuse myself. “I’ll keep in touch” I say, and leave. Walking to the meeting on campus from my apartment, I actually took time to notice what a beautiful sunny day it was. Walking out of the meeting and into the sunlight was one of the hardest things I’ve done. Such terrible injustice. How could the weather be so nice when the world was so cruel? I can’t enjoy this sunshine, I want it to be pouring rain to mimic the grief I feel…
I first met Allen when I joined the AYF Crescenta Valley “Zartonk” chapter at age 16. He was on the executive and welcomed me to the chapter with open arms. He even embraced the fact that I was parskahye and would jokingly say how happy he was our numbers were growing. He encouraged me to be as involved as possible and quickly became a role model for me in the organization. My first memory of him at an event was him making Armenian coffee on a tiny portable stove and selling it at our chapter’s booth at the Armenian Independence Day Festival. I have never seen anyone so enthusiastically sell coffee. For him it didn’t matter what the activity was, you needed to do it passionately with every fiber of your being.
He was so happy for me when I started working at AYF, and subsequently joined the PR council, which he chaired. He took me under his wing and taught me the ins and outs of PR/branding/website management/the glory of googledocs…things that I’d had no exposure to previously. One day I was assigned the task of writing a press release. I didn’t have to slightest clue where to start. He walked me through it step by step: title, introduction, quotation, substance, another quotation, concluding thoughts. Seemed easy at the time. But when I sent him my draft, he ripped it to shreds. I took his criticism, improved the article (or so I thought) and sent it back. Nope, still not good enough. Maybe third draft is the charm? Wrong again. Finally by the fourth draft it was worthy of being published. I honestly didn’t see the reasoning for such attention to detail in an article about a small AYF event. He explained to me the magnifying effect that such an article has. Without it, only the hundred or so people at the event would know about it, but by disseminating the article across different channels of media, thousands would read about the works of the AYF. As I came to that realization, I became more motivated to work harder.
The following fiscal year, Allen was elected to CE and I became PR chairperson with him as the representative to the council. Working for Allen must have been the most challenging thing I have ever done. I would often become frustrated by his seemingly unrealistic expectations. I would be stressed from juggling school, work, PR duties, chapter duties, and college applications but he was still adamant about none of that being an excuse. “I’m not you!” I finally blurted out one time. “I don’t want you to be,” he said, “but you need to be the best you that you can be, and that doesn’t happen until you’re pushed to your limits.” And he pushed me alright, but Allen never made me feel incompetent. Instead, he made me feel just inadequate enough so that I would work tirelessly to garner his approval. But when Allen approved of something, it was that much more rewarding.
Allen took pride in everything he did because he produced and accepted nothing less than perfection. Perfection is what he strived for and he delivered. Everything had to be in place down to the last comma and pixel. “Do everything perfectly today so if you die tomorrow, that is how you will be remembered,” he told me. Allen will most definitely be remembered. I learned so much from him about having the drive, passion, motivation and work ethic to succeed. He was my mentor in AYF and a tremendous positive influence in my life. He was a genius, a brilliant leader, a dedicated champion for the Armenian Cause, but above all, an admirable friend and exceptional human being.
May Allen and Sosé both rest in peace and the rest of us honor their legacy by continuing on the path they so boldly paved. Gone but never forgotten.
Regarding his graduation, Allen said at our last chapter meeting, “It’s a sad day to be a ninja turtle.” Very sad indeed.