A Junior Seminar in a Pandemic

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As we are writing this, we keep reminding ourselves that today, Monday May 25th, would have been the day that exhausted juniors, seniors and lecturers who attended AYF Junior Seminar would have been on a coach bus riding home from Fombell, Pennsylvania. Instead, we are all experiencing a different kind of Memorial Day weekend. 

As the pandemic rapidly spread across our country, we knew that reuniting in person with our fellow ungers across the region may not be possible. But, we could not fathom the idea of a Memorial Day weekend without our beloved Seminar. We realized that “virtual” had become the new normal, and our job was to adapt our programming to this change. 

Fast forward to this past Saturday, where this year’s Junior Seminar Council (JSC) successfully planned and executed our first ever AYF Virtual Junior Seminar! We were able to host an educational and immersive experience for over 200 juniors. Over 50 of our region’s seniors also participated as “counselors.” There were three sessions occurring simultaneously; the juniors were split up into younger (ages 10-12), middle (ages 13-14), and older (ages 15-16) groups.

Throughout the day, each group was able to hear from three lecturers—community leader and longtime Junior Seminar lecturer Zohrab Khaligian, Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) executive director Aram Hamparian and AYF Chicago alumnus Sahak Zakarian. Respectively, they spoke about the Treaty of Sevres, current events in Artsakh, and traditional Armenian daraz and dance.

During the post-lecture breakout discussions, senior counselors answered content questions and facilitated further discussions. AYF Greater Boston “Nejdeh” Chapter member Meghri Dervartanian, who is currently in Yerevan, Armenia, was also invited to speak about the local AYF’s efforts to feed families across Armenia amid the COVID-19 pandemic. JSC would like to thank both our lecturers and seniors, because our vision for the day would not have been executed without their participation. 

We couldn’t imagine a day of lectures without time to celebrate our culture at night. Saturday’s programming concluded with a virtual barahantes, which premiered on Facebook and attracted over 160 viewers. Datev Gevorkian, Alek Surenian, Sam Sjostedt, Beiyna Chaparian and Tsoline Gevorkian enthusiastically volunteered to record and perform 11 songs. The live “night activity” was just under one hour, but we have been rewatching the program over and over again since it aired. Although we were all dancing and listening in our separate homes, our barahantes was able to bring a feeling of unity to past, present and future AYF members. 

JSC is overjoyed at the response to our virtual event. We are so proud to have been part of a council that was able to bring a sense of familiarity and comfort amid trying times. This was a historical event that we will never forget. But, we do hope this was our last Virtual Junior Seminar, and we look forward to reuniting with our members for our “normal” Memorial Day weekend next year in Pennsylvania! 

—AYF Eastern Region Junior Seminar Council

Founded in 1933, The Armenian Youth Federation is an international, non-profit, youth organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF). The AYF-YOARF Eastern United States stands on five pillars that guide its central activities and initiatives: Educational, Hai Tahd, Social, Athletic and Cultural. The AYF also promotes a fraternal attitude of respect for ideas and individuals amongst its membership. Unity and cooperation are essential traits that allow members of the organization to work together to realize the AYF’s objectives.

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