Teen Serena Hajjar Impresses with Heart and Grace


By Tom Vartabedian

LEXINGTON, Mass. — Serena Hajjar is not your typical teenager.

While other girls her age are busy working on their tans or shopping at the mall, she is out winning gymnastics championships, writing articles for publication, maintaining stellar grades and volunteering her spare time at one Armenian organization after another.

On her immediate agenda is not a state title for which she is capable of earning, but an Armenian Bone Marrow Drive in September. As of March, she has been on a committee that is planning a walk September 28, starting at the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center (ACEC) at 10 a.m. and ending in Watertown Square.

“Fortunately, none of my friends or family needs the services provided by this group,” she said in a recent interview. “I enjoy making a difference for the people whose life may depend upon finding a bone marrow match. I did the Walk for Life last year and I got involved.”

Closer to home was the money she raised for “MySchoolPulse,” a charity based in Lebanon that aims to provide gravely ill children with tutoring and other resources to continue their studies while being hospitalized.

This past year, Hajjar turned 16 and asked that instead of presents, guests of her Sweet Sixteen donate to this cause.

The charity was founded by a family friend, Mireille Nassif, who lost her son, Paul, to osteosarcoma, a bone cancer common in teenagers, in August 2009. The $5,000 Hajjar raised was quickly matched by her parents, making the total of $10,000 far in excess of her $2,000 goal.

“Although we were toddlers when we met, I’ll never forget his battle against cancer,” Hajjar pointed out. “I was shocked that someone battling cancer would have the energy to continue their studies with such enthusiasm. He continued to study with an oxygen mask on his face until his last moments.”

The Armenian lineage in this girl runs deep. Both parents were born and raised in Lebanon. Her paternal grandfather was Dr. Joseph Hajjar, a distinguished neurologist, while her maternal grandfather was Khatchig Babikian, a well-known public figure, lawyer, politician, parliament member and cabinet minister.

At the age of 4, she was introduced to the Boston Ballet. Two years later, she discovered gymnastics and took the sport to unparalleled heights. The medals she won were nothing compared to the rush of flying through the air or completing a new routine on the high beam.

Over the past 10 years, Hajjar has built quite a resume for herself, winning state championships in her age class. A year ago, she took a gold medal on the vault at the Massachusetts’ Judges Cup.

“It’s given me a great work ethic,” she admitted. “Gymnastics has taught me the value of hard work and perseverance in achieving goals that far exceed any awards I may have received.”

In addition, she has been taking piano lessons for 10 years. Her teacher is Shoushig Parseghian of Belmont. She has performed in three concerts by Amaras as well as the April 24th commemoration in Watertown.

The Lexington High junior holds a 4.08 unweighted GPA while enrolled in honors and AP classes.  She hopes to major in history and/or international relations in college.

She has written several articles for her school paper but none were finer than the three she published in the Armenian Mirror-Spectator this year during a volunteer internship at that newspaper.

“My editor and mentor [Alin Gregorian] created a very friendly environment,” she said. “Getting my work published was such an exciting feeling.”

She decided to help out at Project SAVE last summer after learning about its unique mission, under the tutelage of executive director Ruth Thomasian and office manager John Kebadjian.

“I have always loved history and enjoyed looking at old photographs,” she said. “I was taught so much about Armenian history during my days at St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School. This is such a valuable resource.”

Through gymnastics, Hajjar became a perfect candidate for the Abaka School of Armenain Dance and will join its adult counterpart, Sayat Nova Dance Company next year.

She is an avid reader, cooks, bakes and yes, she’s out with friends who shop, depicting the typical side of this teen.

What may surprise others are her eating habits. She happens to be a vegetarian. Another interesting fact about her is that her first language was not Armenian, English or Arabic, but French.

“Both my parents spoke French since they grew up in Lebanon and carried it to America,” she noted. “They thought it would be a useful addition to the Armenian I would be learning at St. Stephen’s.”

Being a fifth-grader at that school entitled her to a special school trip to Armenia and Artsakh. The memories left an indelible impression.

“The people there [in Artsakh] were so generous and kind, despite their dire situation,” she recalled. “They were content with the simplest things in life, reminding me that many of the things we enjoy in America are superfluous.”

She went back to Armenia last summer with a group of family friends, getting a more mature perspective on the country. She is eager for her third visit.

As to the centennial in 2015, Hajjar has her own thoughts about the commemoration and the main focus is to educate others.

“It breaks my heart to hear some deny the death of 1.5 million Armenians,” she said. “It’s time for a new approach. The best way to get Turkey to recognize the Genocide is through education. Once we spread awareness and knowledge of historical facts, Turkey will lose ground and its credibility. Only when Turkey is isolated in its denial of the Genocide will it finally admit to its crime.”

A Genocide exhibit at the Smithsonian, protests, vigils, aggressive lobbying, petitioning and greater awareness are some of the tasks that should be employed, she agrees.

“Unfortunately, the fight for recognition is one of the few things that truly unit all Armenians across the board,” Serena resumed. “I just wish Armenians could find unity in other areas as well because that solidarity will ultimately be the strongest force in keeping the Armenian nation alive.”