From the moment I was told of the sudden news that my high school, AGBU Manoukian High School (AGBU MHS), would be shutting down and merging with AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School, I was in complete shock. It all felt so surreal; I had graduated from AGBU MHS only three years ago and my younger brother had just recently graduated this June. To think, an institution that has played such a large role in my life and has helped shape my identity would be closing its doors to future generations of students was incredibly heartbreaking.
My years at AGBU MHS were filled with happy and bittersweet moments. The faculty became our second family, and our school became a second home. The faculty members stood as a backbone to the entirety of the student body and always prioritized the needs of their students over all else. They were pivotal in shaping our high school experiences and emphasizing the importance of being Armenian and our responsibility to preserve the culture everyday.
The work of the Armenian department at the school was nothing short of exceptional. The amount of time and effort put in by Mr. Norayr Daduryan and Ms. Lora Kuyumjian to instill a sense of Armenian pride within its student body through the teachings of poetry, song, theater and art is truly remarkable. These two educators single-handedly created a tiny Armenia within our small campus, and they continue to mold the new generation of students into passionate Armenians who, I’m positive, will go on to become vocal advocates for the Armenian cause in their communities.
As I walked onto campus on Monday morning, there was a strange silence and eeriness in the air, which I had never felt before. At 8:30 am, the students staged a silent walkout from their classes, with posters in their hands, that displayed statements like “I should be worrying about my future college, not my future high school” and “Can’t afford our education? Well, we can’t afford assimilation.” Their faces read frustration, anger, sadness and disappointment. Their school was giving up on them and forcing them to separate from the environment that they had become so comfortable and accustomed to.
I watched the events unfold as I stood with a group of alumni, wearing black in solidarity with the #SpartanStrong movement, feeling betrayed and angry with those who made this decision. While the MHS Board and the Manoukian Foundation attributed the shutdown of the school to the growing financial burden due to declining student enrollment, I was left dumbfounded: how is it possible that one of the wealthiest Armenian organizations, led by the richest benefactors, does not have the financial capacity to support one small Armenian high school in Pasadena? Are they even slightly concerned about the risk of assimilation? Are they aware of the consequences this decision will bring for future generations of Armenian students?
The protest included speeches by supporters of the cause, including Mrs. Maro Najarian-Yacoubian, co-chair of the Parent Support Group; Mr. Joseph Atme, AGBU MHS student body president; Father Barthev Gulumian, Mr. Norayr Daduryan and Mrs. Lora Kuyumjian. Each speech was more powerful than the last. We were all left with the spirit and passion to continue fighting for the school.
Mr. Daduryan emphasized how communities in the diaspora in Syria, Lebanon and even Istanbul, continue to operate their schools, in times of conflict and tension, yet an Armenian school in America, backed by robust organizations and donors, is not able to keep its doors open for more than 13 years. AGBU MHS is not the only school that is dealing with the difficulties of low enrollment and financial issues in Southern California. There are other Armenian schools that have been operating long before AGBU MHS, and they continue to operate today. Why? Because rather than using the school as an asset to gain profit, other schools see a greater, more honest purpose in keeping Armenian schools open: to preserve the language and culture for generations to come.
Towards the end of the protest, I was overcome with tears, as I was faced with the sad reality of the situation. This school introduced me to my lifelong friends, who are currently studying at top universities in California and have become heavily involved in their Armenian communities. This school introduced me to the greatest network of educators. To this day, I continue to seek their advice and ask for guidance, as they have become mentors to me. I will always be grateful that I had the chance to attend an Armenian school and knowing the benefits of attending an Armenian school, I believe that future generations of students should not be stripped away from this opportunity.
Future generations of Armenian students should be guaranteed the opportunity to attend an Armenian school. They need to learn about the history and the resilience of the Armenian people, learn the beautiful language, recite our poetry, sing our songs and, most importantly, have the chance to visit the homeland with their peers, which is a life-changing experience for young Armenians.
I urge the AGBU MHS School Board and the Manoukians to reconsider their decision to close down the high school because it would be a shame to do so.