Class of ‘93: From Trailblazers to ChangeMakers
It was a historic time, but one of the most difficult and darkest for the Republic of Armenia. On September 21, 1991, the same day the Armenian Parliament declared independence, the American University of Armenia (AUA) opened its doors, welcoming its initial cohort of students. This group of fresh-minded, eager youth would soon be the first graduating class of AUA: the Class of 1993.
Over the years, the Class of ‘93 has exhibited a sense of camaraderie that seems unparalleled in comparison to other classes. Perhaps it was the difficulty of the times that bound everyone together so closely. Or the monumental status and responsibility of being “the first class” that they had to carry forward. But whatever keeps the bond strong is apparent in how they came together to jointly become ChangeMakers and enable the new generation of AUA students to be vessels of change, propelling Armenia forward.
At a recent get-together at the home of Gagik Yeghiazarian (MBA ‘93), the classmates caught up and discussed the mission of AUA in molding the future of Armenia. Also present was one of the founders of AUA, President Emeritus Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian, who responded to messages of gratitude with, “You, the pioneer class, played a very critical role in establishing the University.” This minor exchange is just a small example of the symbiotic relationship between AUA alumni and the University.
Reflecting on the early days of AUA, Armen Hovakimian (MBA ‘93), who is currently a Professor of Finance at NYC Baruch College Zicklin School of Business, says, “The years when we were at AUA, marked one of the most difficult periods in the modern history of the country and the Armenian people. Yet for me and, I’m sure, for most of my classmates this was a time of a promise and hope. For us, AUA was an embodiment of that hope. It was very different from everything we experienced before and we really loved spending time at AUA. Most of us, including myself, were in the MBA program. But the school was small, there were only two programs, and we all felt we were part of one very lucky group.” This same sentiment echoes across the entire Class and is the main reason why the group banded together, spearheaded by Anahit Ordyan (MBA ‘93), to take on various efforts to give back to their Alma Mater.
Anahit, who is currently working as the Assistant Vice President at AUA, has been involved with the University in various capacities for many decades now. She is regarded by some as the glue that holds their class together. When speaking of what AUA gave to her and the entire class, she carries so much love and immense gratitude to the founding fathers for the opportunity they established for young students in Armenia. “Those were desperate years for the nation, but AUA kept the entire class in high spirits with so much positive energy beaming within the walls of the University. So much was new, different, and positive—the teachings, interactions, educational system, values, methodology, American faculty.” She recalls how encouraging the faculty’s attitude was, making them feel valued and applauding them when they exhibited exceptional work, which was far from what they were used to. She cites a supporting example of a comment a student made during the process of AUA obtaining initial accreditation from WASC Senior College and University Commission, saying, “I am very surprised that you can disagree with what the professor says and not be punished for it.” And it was within this environment that the Class of ‘93 became closer, spending long hours together on campus through the challenging times and building friendships among themselves and the faculty.
Many of the students in the Class of ‘93 went on to take very successful positions in their careers, but always credited their success to their education at AUA. David Akopyan (MBA ‘93), has served in the UNDP for over two decades, in many different roles that have taken him all over the world. “I still think pursuing an education at AUA was one of the best decisions of my life. I had an exciting group of classmates, wonderful teachers, and a library that had plenty of new reading materials. During this time, the internet was just in its infancy, and AUA also granted me access to this extra window to the world. I am truly and eternally thankful for this life-changing opportunity that AUA and its founders gave me.”
The idea of paying forward the opportunity that they were given is deeply instilled in the Class of ‘93, so much so that they are quick to answer the call to give back to AUA through many philanthropic efforts they have taken on with significant contributions on every milestone anniversary. In addition to collectively becoming one of 100 AUA Pillars, two years ago, in 2019, the class decided to join the exclusive group of AUA Changemakers.
This year, the classmates have come together to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their friendship. Among various get-togethers and activities, the group visited the newly inaugurated AUA Student Residence to see this new milestone development in the alma mater’s facilities expansion. “Of course, there is no comparison with what the dormitory in Nork offered in the early 90s and what this modern facility has today,” stated Karine Sarkissian (MBA ’93), the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Armenia.
The group has always stepped up to the call, and felt a strong sense of responsibility to contribute with every milestone anniversary and celebration. On this occasion, Aram Avakian (MBA ‘93) wanted to stand in solidarity with his classmates, with Armen Hovakimian adding that the connectedness of the alumni of the Class of ‘93, their tradition of open communication on various issues, and AUA’s impactful campaigns have amplified their feelings of wanting to step up for AUA, which is what happened with their decision to contribute as a class to the ChangeMakers campaign. Another classmate, Babken Mnatsakanyan (MBA ‘93), who is working as the Fiscal Agent Manager in Nepal for the Millennium Challenge Corporation, says that the main motivation in becoming ChangeMakers was to support AUA and its hard-working students in achieving their goals and positively impacting the country’s social and economic ways of life.
With the concept of the Open Centers of Excellence, Karine comments that its establishment will provide opportunities of collaboration and strengthen ties between talented students with great potential, and scientists, entrepreneurs, and community leaders. “Through its “reality labs” in in different sectors, the Open Centers of Excellence will have a transformative impact, not only in Armenia, but also in the entire region, connecting it to the world and making a real change.”
Armen elaborates on the vision he sees that the ChangeMakers campaign is having on Armenia: “The way I see it, Armenia needs changes that are big and fast. Such changes cannot start simultaneously everywhere. The Centers of Excellence can serve as catalysts for such changes. As for the “open” component, that is also very important for Armenia because the density of the necessary expertise and experience in Armenia is very low and some of it only exists outside the borders of the country. Hence, it is important for these centers to attract all available human capital regardless of its physical location. Only then, the Centers can achieve excellence and become the catalysts of the type of change the country needs.”
The Class of ‘93 is a model group of alumni for many other classes who will hopefully follow suit and become ChangeMakers in the future. Gagik makes the case that as an AUA and Harvard graduate, he is pleased to attest that AUA has had very high standards and values since its inception. “Armenia needs strong institutions to thrive, and AUA is one of the best assets we have so it is up to us to make it even stronger. Let’s take a moment to think about what AUA has given us—has given to you personally! Perhaps we can also take a moment to think about what we can do, no matter how big or small, to give back,” he urges.
As pioneers of the University, the graduates of the Class of ‘93 have never ceased to be involved with the University, taking on the role of siblings with each other and devoted children of AUA. They are happy to see the University uphold its commitment to delivering quality education over the years, and are taking an active role in ensuring the next generation reaps the benefits of what was initially established 30 years ago.
“My hope is that we are making our modest contributions to help prepare a generation that will take charge of the future of our people and our country with competence and integrity, and will change the trajectory of our history the same way AUA has been changing the life trajectories of its students,” says Armen, adding that, “For that to happen, however, we all have to work hard and contribute in any way we can.”
We are grateful to the Class of 1993 and the entire Alumni Family of AUA.