By Elise Kalfayan
LOS ANGELES — Haigazian University in Beirut awards $1 million in scholarships to Armenian students each year. Its 60th year of instruction just began, and a Gala marking the anniversary with the goal of expanding the university’s endowment is set for October 3 in Los Angeles.
I have followed news about Haigazian as far back as I can remember. As a child, I went to Haigazian Women’s Auxiliary fundraisers with my mother, grandmother, aunts and great-aunts, all supporters of the university. I learned at the time that our diaspora community was committed to keeping Haigazian’s door of opportunity open for Armenian students in the Near East, and that it was usually the only door available to these students.
What I did not hear at the time was how important this was and still is to Haigazian students. So when I heard about the gala fundraiser, my first question was, “How will this impact students?”
Board president Dr. Ani Darakjian responded: “We scramble every year to provide scholarships from our endowment, but end up tapping the operations budget to meet our commitments. We are committed to giving $1 million each year. An increased endowment will be a steady source for student aid and will also fund projects that serve the academic needs of our students.”
Haigazian scholarships are in even greater demand now, Darakjian told me. Several students are Syrian refugees who need help with housing as well as tuition because their families have lost everything. She put me in touch with university staff and through them, I was able to reach out to students and ask them about their experiences.
Christine, from Damascus, is starting her third year and majoring in Armenian Studies. She deeply appreciates the support and care she’s receiving, is doing well in her classes, and plans to get a master’s degree. “When I came to Lebanon, I faced some difficulties, but I am lucky that I could study at Haigazian. I chose this major first because I love the Armenian language and second because of a lack of Armenian schools in Damascus, which prompted me to think about doing something to encourage learning Armenian.” She’s convinced that in every country there is a need for teachers and encouragement of Armenian language.
Dzaghig, from Kessab, is studying Elementary Education with an emphasis on Armenian Studies. “I faced some language difficulties during my first semester. It was not easy for me, as someone educated in Syria, to switch from an all-Arabic university to an all-English institution. However, with extra effort I was able to be placed on the dean’s list for two semesters.” Dzaghig’s goals are to benefit as much as possible from the courses she’s taking, to graduate with honors, and in her career to be someone who can influence and benefit others, especially those in the Armenian community. “As an Armenian, pursuing higher education at Haigazian is a great opportunity, and it makes me proud, because Haigazian is the only Armenian university in the Arab world, and it has a great reputation in educating both Armenians and non-Armenians. Without the scholarship I received, I would not have been able to pursue my higher education, so I am very grateful for the opportunity I have.”
George, from Aleppo, is working toward a B.S. in computer science, then a Master’s degree in Computer & Communications Engineering. He’s also worked hard as a professional IT support technician. “I had to work long hours in order to continue my academic career, which affected my performance and grades. The Financial Aid Committee at Haigazian did their best to help every student that needed aid. Higher education today is a must, and education itself is ‘wider’ today than it ever was. As Armenian students, we are pleased to pursue higher education to the ‘information limit of today’! And also to expand these limits with our knowledge and persistence, and with Haigazian’s support and aid.”
Talar, also from Aleppo, is a business student. “Haigazian is helping me through my academic years, and I am very thankful because honestly, I wouldn’t be able to continue not even for a semester without financial aid. I have always wanted to be part of the business world around me, and that’s why I chose business administration with an emphasis in management information systems. I am working hard toward my goal and dream of working in a big and successful company like Google.”
The students I heard from clearly aspire to give back, as those who came before them are now doing. The original purpose of Haigazian was to prepare leaders for the Armenian communities in the Near East; alumni include many clergy, teachers, community leaders and ambassadors serving all over the world. Darakjian’s father, Rev. Barkev Darakjian, started his higher education with a scholarship at Haigazian and has served as a pastor, teacher, writer, editor and intellectual leader.
Other notable alumni I’m acquainted with include Vatsche Barsoumian, director of Lark Musical Society in Glendale; and Lena Bozoyan, senior accountant to the Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles, serving on many Armenian and American nonprofit boards. Many more in Southern California and around the world are enriching our community.
The successes of students past and present inspire the organizers of Haigazian’s 60th Anniversary Gala on October 3rd. The event, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, features Grammy award-winning tenor and conductor Plácido Domingo in the title role of Woody Allen’s production of Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi,” then conducting Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Pagliacci. A sumptuous Black Tie supper in the Grand Hall will follow. Sponsorships and tickets are available at www.haigazian.org.