FRESNO — The Armenian Studies Program at California State University, Fresno, held its gala 24th anniversary banquet, on Sunday, March 11, in the banquet hall of the Fort Washington Golf and Country Club.
More than 260 community members joined with Fresno State President Dr. John Welty, College of Arts and Humanities Dean Dr. Vida Samiian and faculty, students and friends of the Armenian Studies Program to mark the special occasion.
Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian, director of the Armenian Studies Program, welcomed guests on behalf of the program and gave a brief message on the program’s activities in the 2011-2012 academic year. This year marked the 35th anniversary of the establishment of the Armenian Studies Program at Fresno State.
Prof. Sergio La Porta, Berberian Professor of Armenian Studies, spoke about the program and about its growth in recent years.
Dr. Richard Hovannisian, AEF Professor Emeritus of Modern Armenian History at UCLA, was the honored guest at the banquet and the keynote speaker for the evening. He was recognized with several proclamations, including one from the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, bestowed in person by Debbie Poochigian, chairman of the Board of Supervisors. The Fresno City Council also declared March 11 as “Dr. Richard Hovannisian Day” in Fresno, thanks to the efforts of Councilman Andreas Borgeas. Valley legislators recognized Hovannisian with a proclamation lauding his years of teaching and research, due to Mary Alice Kaloostian, district director for California state Sen. Tom Berryhill.
Welty awarded Hovannisian with the President’s Medal of Distinction, the highest non-degree award presented by California State University, Fresno. It is presented to citizens of the region, state or nation whose contribution in the area of professional achievements or pub- lic service are of national or international significance or represent a contribution of great significance to the university.
Hovannisian, gave an inspiring speech as he reflected on a long academic career. He was the first to teach Armenian courses at Fresno State in 1960-1962, when he taught several extension courses. While teaching those Armenian courses, he also learned more about Armenian history, rediscovering his own roots.
Hovannisian reflected on his childhood and the role his grandparents and parents had in shaping his life. His childhood on the family farm affected him greatly and he emphasized the most important lesson he had gained, which was the idea that change was possible for everyone, slowly but surely.
Following the keynote address, student recipients of Armenian Studies Program scholar- ships received a congratulatory letter from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and a gift of the book, Follow, written by William Saroyan, from the Armenian Studies Program. More than 40 students were recognized for receiving the scholarships and for graduating with a minor in Armenian studies.