Over 300 guests gathered at the California Club in downtown Los Angeles on September 7, 2019 to pay tribute to AUA President Emeritus Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian who served as the fourth president of AUA July 2014-June 2019. The event raised over $350,000 and the proceeds will go toward establishing the Armen & Nelly Der Kiureghian Endowed Scholarship Fund earmarked for scholarships to young veterans returning to AUA to continue their education. The scholarships available through this new fund will add another favorable dimension to the safe environment AUA provides for young veterans to smoothly transition back to student life and continue their studies, build a career, and grow to become responsible citizens of Armenia.
Co-chairs Lori Muncherian and Arsine Phillips welcomed the guests and following the invocation by archbishops Hovnan Derderian and Moushegh Mardirossian, Dr. Mary Papazian, President of San Jose State University (SJSU), gave the opening remarks. Papazian applauded Dr. Der Kiureghian for his tireless efforts in many facets of University administration, making special reference to the memorandum of understanding signed between SJSU and AUA, by which SJSU hosted several AUA students this past summer along with a staff member from student affairs.
Speaking next was Sinan Sinanian, a member of the AGBU Council of Trustees and AUA Board of Trustees. For AGBU as a founding supporter of the University, he considered AUA as the most successful investment in Armenia.
A video presentation followed highlighting the many accomplishments of AUA during Dr. Der Kiureghian’s tenure, not the least of which was the launch and completion of the 100 Pillars campaign, the creation of the Entrepreneurship & Product Innovation Center (EPIC), the start of three new degree programs, as well as the establishment of the offices of Student Affairs and Counseling.
A highlight of the evening were the words of Arman Vardanyan, a veteran who is now a senior at AUA majoring in English and Communications: “Every time I passed by the AUA buildings as a young teenager, I dreamt of becoming a student there one day. Well, dreams come true for those who dream but also take action. I did get admitted to AUA and I am now chasing my dream.”
When he was still a freshman at AUA, Vardanyan received the call of duty and had to put his studies on hold to serve in the military for two years. He was a soldier during the April 2016 Four-Day-War in Artsakh and served his country with dignity and honor. Upon return to AUA, he was grateful for the warm welcome and a full scholarship, which made his transition back to civilian life so much smoother. “That is when I felt the sense of belonging to a community that believes in me and has my back. I set my mind to study hard to become a better citizen of Armenia and also a citizen of the world. AUA has made this possible. I am surrounded and continually inspired by excellent administrators, outstanding faculty and staff at AUA, all of which I attribute to the tremendous leadership of Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian. On behalf of all my fellow students, and particularly in the name of the growing number of returning veterans, I extend my deepest gratitude to Dr. Der Kiureghian for always staying focused on students.”
Der Kiureghian’s daughter, Naira and son, Sebouh added a personal touch to the evening when they talked about their father’s dedication to AUA. “A defining characteristic of my father has been his readiness to roll up his sleeves and make sacrifices when his homeland needed him,” noted Sebouh. “At the graduation party, I was amazed at how students were competing with each other for an opportunity to take selfies with him. Throughout my years in both undergraduate and graduate schools, I’ve never seen students so excited about their university president,” added Naira.
A surprise guest appearance was made by Armenian jazz pianist Vahagn Hayrapetyan who entertained the attendees with beautiful musical renditions. Next at the podium was Dr. Lawrence “Larry” Pitts, chairman of the Board of Trustees of AUA. Pitts said that the Velvet Revolution had shifted the country toward a new path and that, “AUA has become the premier university in the region under Dr. Der Kiureghian’s leadership.” Among the many accomplishments of the University during Dr. Der Kiureghian’s tenure, Pitts acknowledged the continued support of those gathered and many other donors that have grown the “AUA endowment from $19.8 million to $61.6 million.”
Dr. Pitts then invited Dr. Der Kiureghian and his wife Nelly on stage where he presented them with a beautiful sculpture by Michael Aram and a book of testimonies by many AUA faculty, staff, and students.
Noticeably overwhelmed, Dr. Der Kureghian thanked members of the organizing committee and the AUA Development team for putting together such a lovely evening. “It’s hard to put into words what I am feeling tonight,” he said. “I want to thank the Board of Trustees and all my colleagues at AUA for the amazing five years. We accomplished so much, but I must say that my greatest joy came from the interaction I had with the students and alumni.” He proceeded to give a brief history of when he and Dr. Mihran Agbabian visited Armenia after the 1988 earthquake and met with Yuri Sargsyan, Rector of Yerevan Polytechnic Institute who said the best thing the diaspora could do for Armenia was to establish an American-style university Armenia.
“With the help of many people including Louise Manoogian Simone and later Stepan Karamardian, we requested assistance from UC’s President David Gardner. The affiliation with UC provided vital academic and administrative guidance including management of our endowment. I am proud to be a co-founder of AUA as well as its fourth president,” he said. “AUA is now internationally known and has students from 25 countries.”
Dr. Karin Markides, the new president of AUA concluded the evening by saying that she was honored to take on the role, and thanked everyone for attending the banquet and supporting AUA, especially the Veteran’s Campaign. “I am deeply honored to take on this torch, to lead the university to have the greatest impact in Armenia we possibly can. I want to thank Armen for doing everything possible to make this a smooth transition, so valuable for me but even more valuable for the students.”
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. For more information about AUA and its donor opportunities, please visit philanthropy.aua.am.