This year, so far, has been nothing but out of the ordinary. From live classes converting over to e-learning, meetings being conducted via ZOOM and events being postponed, there is no doubt that the pandemic has affected all of us in one way or another.
Being part of the AYF has been my pride and joy as a local member of the Florida Armenian community. Learning that I had become part of the Junior Seminar Council (JSC) was a dream come true! I had always wanted to play a role in planning the biggest junior event. I worked with six other members of the AYF Eastern Region. Since then, we went straight to work; we planned a theme and activities for the 2020 Junior Seminar that we were all thrilled about!
As COVID-19 continued to escalate, we had no choice but to take a detour in our planning process. The JSC wanted nothing more than to ensure the safety of the juniors during this time. But we didn’t stop there; we continued to plan for something just as memorable. Virtual Junior Seminar was born!
Juniors were split into various groups based on age as usual and engaged in three lectures about culture, history and dance. Speaking on behalf of the South Florida “Arev” Chapter, it gave a majority of our chapter members, most of whom are new members, the opportunity to participate in a regional event for the first time. “Virtual Seminar was a lot of fun. It was my first ever seminar, and honestly before logging in I wasn’t expecting a lot. But it was so much fun. I got to see and talk to old friends. And the best part was I got to learn more about my culture and then talk about and discuss it with new people. I’m glad that this was how my first one went because now I can’t wait for next year to come so I can have the full experience,” said 16 year-old Mary Vardanyan.
Fellow JSC member Aleena Surenian and I were part of the middle group junior lectures. All of our juniors were engaged and actively participated throughout the lectures, discussions and even exercises to get us up and out of our chairs. Karoon Krikorian, a 14 year-old junior from the Chicago “Ararat” Chapter, commented, “Virtual Seminar was awesome! We had the opportunity to have lectures from our favorite speakers. One of the best parts was breaking out into mini groups to talk about the lecture and do icebreaker games. It was also pretty awesome to have a virtual barahantes. We may not have been at camp, but we still got to see our friends and have a seminar experience!” Twelve year-old Garo Tarbinian from Providence also enjoyed this year’s event. He said, “It was well planned for the situation and I had a good time. I liked that I was able to see my friends even if it wasn’t in person.”
It was rewarding to learn this feedback from juniors as this historic virtual Junior Seminar came to a close, especially in light of all the changes that JSC had to make along the way to make this possible. We carried on traditions and held a barahantes like we would have if we were at Junior Seminar, but online. We know it can’t compare to the campground experience of Fombell, Pennsylvania, but we hope it was memorable and worthwhile for our participants. I am thankful for this experience, as part of the Junior Seminar Council and the first, and hopefully only, Virtual Junior Seminar! It is one that I will never forget. We hope to see you all next year!