With an overarching theme of Excellence in Action, an inspiring celebration of the 110th anniversary of the AGBU New England District was held in Greater Boston from June 1 to 2. The weekend brought together over 300 guests, including the AGBU leadership, a considerable number of young professionals, clergy, representatives of local Armenian organizations, friends and supporters.
This anniversary gave the perfect pretext for the AGBU New England District Committee to reflect on the past and mark the beginning of a new era. “This started the momentum for the AGBU New England District to focus on progressive and meaningful programs, especially those geared toward students and young professionals,” explains Ara Balikian, chair of the AGBU New England District.
The celebration began with a meaningful dialogue between the AGBU global leadership and members of the community. Close to 50 young professionals from across New England met with members of the AGBU Central Board at Boston’s District Hall for a town hall forum which allowed for a candid and direct conversation about a broad range of issues, including the Velvet Revolution in Armenia, opportunities for engagement and the needs and challenges of our global nation.
Arda Haratunian, a member of the AGBU Central Board, began the discussion with a brief presentation on AGBU’s longstanding efforts in the areas of education, culture and identity, humanitarian and human rights work as well as the socio-economic development of Armenia. She went on explaining the concept of global Armenian nation which defines AGBU’s vision for the future of Armenia and the diaspora. Haratunian also emphasized that AGBU keeps building on its trusted reputation as, throughout the years, it continued adapting new strategies to serve the emerging needs of Armenians. Over the past several years, AGBU has particularly expanded its approach to programming to create stronger ties between the diaspora and Armenia.
AGBU President Berge Setrakian underscored this prevailing theme as he addressed the young professionals. He drew their attention to the significance of the development of Armenia, conveying one of the fundamental beliefs of the AGBU leadership that there is no future for the diaspora without Armenia. The discourse continued with an open forum discussion with members of the AGBU Central Board Noubar Afeyan, Ani Manoukian and Vasken Yacoubian, who took the stage with Haratunian to address the pressing questions of the crowd.
“It is a unique opportunity to have the AGBU board members convene in one location from across the globe and be willing to have an open discussion with young professionals from New England,” said Vrej Pilavdjian, YP Boston chair. “The AGBU leadership wanted to hear from us and connect with us. This was a chance for our YP community to engage directly with our leaders and learn about the past of AGBU, ask about their vision for future and become motivated for the present.”
The weekend’s celebration culminated in the gala which took place at the Samberg Conference Center at MIT. Gala co-chairs Lindsey Hagopian and Houry Youssoufian welcomed guests after a video showcasing the early start of New England Armenians was screened. With personal touches, they set the tone for a series of speeches and presentations. Master of ceremonies Lia Oganesyan kept the crowd engaged by also sharing her family’s historic involvement with AGBU. Keeping the mood light and inspiring, Balikian took the stage to announce the launch of the AGBU Boston Summer Internship Program which will start serving students in 2019. He also motivated the crowd promising a series of new programs – including an entrepreneurship incubator – to accommodate the needs of New England youth and help them succeed in their fields.
The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the AGBU New England District’s Global Excellence Awards. Prominent entrepreneur Dr. Noubar Afeyan, founder and CEO of Flagship Pioneering, and renown heart surgeon Dr. Kristine J. Guleserian, senior director of the Heart Failure and Transplantation Program at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, were honored for their achievements and their significant support for their communities. Dr. Afeyan spoke of his journey connecting to his roots and took the opportunity to encourage the crowd to activate their “Armenianness.” “I urge you to stop thinking in terms of Armenians by blood, but rather be Armenians by choice. To choose to be Armenian and serve the nation is an active notion. In making this choice, we welcome others to our community to truly engage and increase our overall potential.” Dr. Guleserian captivated the crowd as she shared her inspiring stories about saving the lives of young patients in the most critical conditions. Her presentation ended in great applause as she vowed to apply her knowledge to treat patients across the globe, including Armenia.
The event also served as a fundraiser helping to collect 1.22 million dollars for local and global AGBU youth programs. During a poignant moment in the evening, Ara Balikian invited members of the Cpl. Paul Marsoubian AMVETs Post 41, an Armenian American war veterans group, to come up for a special tribute. “These individuals, along with their colleagues made a great sacrifice for the United States and instilled pride in us all. We are honored to be able to thank them in this way,” stated Balikian. “Furthermore, they believe in the promise of the future and we are touched to announce a donation of one million dollars from the veterans group to be directed to AGBU Scholarships. Their investment in the next generation will ensure their legacy continues for generations to come.”
President Setrakian concluded the evening, saying, “Now more than ever, we need positive role models. Kristine and Noubar tonight are symbols of the new generation. The new generation will come and see how successful Armenians can be and value their identity. AGBU remains committed to excellence and will continue to invest in creating role models and motivating the youth.” He invited all in attendance to join the efforts of the AGBU New England District as well as the global movement, “AGBU is ready to collaborate with all individuals and organizations in the room to continue enhancing local programs and ensure the existence of a prosperous, independent, democratic and free Armenia.”
The success of the celebration and the fundraising proved the AGBU New District’s ability to mobilize and bring the community together and showed people’s trust in the organization. “I was delighted that almost every major Armenian organization regardless of cause or affiliation was represented at the gala,” said Balikian. “It was significant because it symbolized our local community’s support to AGBU and the New England District, as well as their willingness to work collaboratively for the betterment of our local community and Armenia.”
Established in 1906, AGBU (www.agbu.org) is the world’s largest non-profit Armenian organization. Headquartered in New York City, AGBU preserves and promotes the Armenian identity and heritage through educational, cultural and humanitarian programs, annually touching the lives of some 500,000 Armenians around the world.
For more information about AGBU and its worldwide programs, please visit www.agbu.org.