By Michelle Hagopian
The sun beats down on the blue track at a Philadelphia high school. A faint breeze blows through the air. Athletes rest in the shade, mingling with their friends from rival chapters or their own. Dozens of spectators fill the seats and voice their support from the fence. The scene itself never changes. In my fifth year as an AYF Senior competing at Olympics, neither does the best scene of all: seeing my family smiling from the bleachers.
AYF Senior Olympics has been a longstanding tradition for the Hagopian family, much like the AYF as a whole has been. For two generations, my family has been active in this organization that I’ve come to love with all my heart. What does the AYF mean to me? The better question is what doesn’t the AYF mean to me? Since the age of 10, my family has taught me to cherish and give back to the AYF in order to better my life and the lives of others.
The sense of pride and love for our Armenian heritage began decades ago with my grandfather, Andrew, and grandmother, Angeline. They raised three boys—Michael, Stephen, and Jeffrey—in Granite City, Ill., with the intent to pass down a strong dedication to the Armenian community. That commitment translated to being active in the church, the AYF, and the ARF. My father, Jeff, said they were raised to “be aware, be proud, and be supportive of our heritage.” Today, my grandpa is one of two ARF members in Granite, along with my Uncle Steve. After my grandmother died in 1973, Grandpa Andrew (“Huggy”) married my Grandma Annette, who became active in the local ARS chapter as well as St. Gregory Church organizations. They continued to support the boys, who went on to hold positions on AYF chapter executives, the Midwest regional executive and Central Executive, as well as attend and work at Camp Haiastan.
Our family expanded from there. Michael met Karen Sogoian through the AYF and married in Granite City in 1977 before moving to Detroit. They had three daughters: Taline, Sosi, and Ani. Steve married Susan Lee and had Andrew, Elizabeth, and Stephen before settling down in Glen Carbon, Ill. Jeffrey married Lynne Krist in Granite and then I came along before my younger sister, Megan. Since then, Sosi married Aram Hovagimian of Philadelphia and Taline married Hrag Chalian of New Jersey. (As of press time, Taline and Hrag are expecting their first child!)
For me to go on about the capacities in which my family has been active in the Armenian community would use more word count than I’m allotted. But, besides being active in the AYF, ARF, and ARS, the Hagopians serve on church boards, and my uncles Mike and Steve have served on the Prelacy Executive Council. In Granite, our family is part of a core group that serves the church, works bingo twice a week, and helps run the community center. In short, we have never not been a part of the Armenian community. I say that only with pride.
As much as this dedication pervades our family, it’s not the only thing that has become tradition for us. Every year, we meet in Granite to celebrate Christmas. Whenever a Hagopian graduates from high school or college, we’re all there to watch the commencement. High school graduations are a weekend event. The dads man the BBQ pit, drinking beer and grilling shish and chicken for the party. Inside, the moms take the reins preparing food, while the cousins run around helping wherever needed. For years, we have had weekly summer vacations in different spots around the country. Some of my fondest memories are from jumping in Lake Michigan, running up sand dunes and biking around Mackinaw Island. As kids, the eight cousins would come up with talent shows and dance routines, always performing for the adults. We started weekend trips to Midwest areas in 2009 to accommodate everyone’s schedules. Regardless of where we are or what we’re doing, laughter and hilarity are guaranteed with time spent together.
More than anything, the tradition I have come to rely on the most is unconditional love and support. Yes, everything my family has accomplished has been done with humility, which I admire in itself. But, nothing is more important to me than having people in my life who I love and who I can come to for anything, anytime.
Our Armenian heritage will forever be an integral part of our lives, as will that support. So when I’m sitting at dinner on Sunday night at Olympics, you can bet I’m not just happy to be in an Armenian environment; I’m in my niche, right where I always have been and always will be—with my family. A tradition.
Michelle Hagopian has emerged as high scorer the past five years and is a journalism student at the University of Missouri, very active in AYF affairs in her community.