Junior Seminar has had my heart from the start. I attended my first Junior Seminar in 2018 as a first-time counselor and AYF member since the reinstatement of the South Florida “Arev” Chapter. It seemed like I was a little late in the game since many other members had been attending since they were 10 years old. That year, I was a counselor to 14 girls from Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and Manhattan. I remember having an experience of a lifetime which turned into a passion for Junior Seminar. I did my absolute best in 2018 to make an impact on those juniors in my cabin, to inspire them to be great future leaders of the AYF and Junior Seminar counselors one day. As the 2018 Junior Seminar came to a close, I realized that this event is one of the most powerful and motivating events ever and I had to attend every year until I age out. When I returned in 2019, I was a counselor to a smaller cabin with eight wonderful girls from Chicago and Detroit, including my little sister. I had an even better experience than the previous year. The 2019 theme was “The First Step,” which made me realize exactly what my next “first steps” were going to be: join the Junior Seminar Council (JSC). I attended AYF Convention that year in Providence, Rhode Island, and I begged Meghri DerVartanian to be on the JSC. In January of 2020, I got the email that I was an approved member to serve that year! I was beyond ecstatic to be a part of such an amazing council that planned and organized one of the most important events for AYF juniors. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, my first two years on the council were not as expected, but we made history by planning the first virtual Junior Seminar in 2020 and hybrid Junior Seminar in 2021.
After three long years of not being in-person, the 2022 JSC finally had the opportunity to plan a Junior Seminar the way it’s supposed to be held. The 2022 JSC consisted of Rosdom Mkrtschjan (Providence “Varantian” Chapter), Nanar Keurkunian (Washington DC “Ani” Chapter), Areni Margossian (Washington DC “Ani” Chapter) Beiyna Chaparian (Greater Boston “Nejdeh” Chapter), Areni Artinian (Chicago “Ararat” Chapter), Danielle Sarafian (Detroit “Kopernik Tandourjian” Chapter), CE member Alexander Manoukian (Washington DC “Ani” Chapter) and myself.
This year’s JSC was tasked with planning the historic 50th anniversary of Junior Seminar. When we first started meeting earlier this year to plan Junior Seminar, we had to think of a strong theme…something that would make sense and fit all that we, as Armenians and as AYF members, have endured throughout the last two years. U. Rosdom proposed the theme “Badanegan Veradznunt” (The Rebirth of the Junior). I remember getting goosebumps and tears in my eyes because all of it, in a split second, came together and fit perfectly for this returning year. After our many Monday night meetings and hours-long conversations planning the structure for the memorable weekend, we finally made it. This year’s lecturers were Garo Madenlian (Artsakh: current state of Hayastan), Aram Hamparian (ANCA), Alek Surenian and Alex Avaneszadeh (Song, Dance and Culture), Elizabeth Chouldjian (ARF: Ov eh Tashnagtsagan Badanin), Nareh Mkrtschjan (Camp Haiastan), Shahan Avedian (Fighting Assimilation), Ani Khachatourian and Aram Balian (Zartir Lao), Kenar Charchaflian (LIT Program) and an open panel by the AYF Central Executive. After two days of lectures, we recognized a shift in the juniors’ attitudes. Each lecture was meant to empower and stimulate the “rebirth” of participants.
On Sunday, I attended the Zartir Lao lecture with tears streaming down my face as a group of younger girls and boys passionately sang at the top of their lungs every word of that song. Each time they finished singing, they proudly clapped and later sang together with the whole camp. As I was singing along, I paused for a moment to take it all in. Here I am, 26 years old, the only AYF member from Florida, with all my fellow AYF members, seeing these juniors, singing and understanding the meaning behind Zartir Lao. All I could think about was the amazing organization of the AYF. I knew I was a proud Armenian before I even knew what the AYF was, but I realized the limit of how proud one can be once they join the AYF does not exist.
At the end of the long weekend, the JSC introduced the 50th anniversary banner for all attendees to sign. We also announced that we will be burying a time capsule to open in 50 years at the centennial anniversary. Juniors were encouraged to write a message to themselves or future badanis to read when they opened this capsule in 2072. On the back of the banner, the JSC wrote a message about the current state of Armenia and its impact as well as a personal message to the 2072 JSC. On Sunday night, we watched an interview video produced by U. Rosdom with the first JSC and their experiences. One of those members was Mike Varadian from the Providence “Varantian” Chapter, who spoke wise words of encouragement to AYF juniors and seniors. His primary takeaway was “keep going.” Keep inspiring, keep fighting, keep growing, and keep going ungerner because the fight is not over and our rebirth has just begun. After this weekend, I am overwhelmed by the amount of devotion and dedication I’ve witnessed to the AYF and to the homeland. I also was able to reconnect with the juniors I had as campers back in 2018 and 2019 (Areni Artinian, Alina Dekirmenjian, Alique Karakachian, Ani Dardarian, Karine Calukyan and Alexandra Tufenkjian); they are now seniors and counselors, inspiring youth of their own. I felt even more honored to have been their counselor and now their JSC member.
I’d like to conclude with a message to each of my ungers on the council. U. Rosdom, you come from a very inspiring family, but you have inspired me the most. Thank you for all your hard work and dedication throughout this weekend and throughout the last four years as a JSC member. As chair, you took all your ungerouhis with you on this journey and planned a successful and memorable Junior Seminar. U. Nanar, not only have we become ungerouhis over the last three years, but I feel that you are more like a sister to me now. Thank you for all our late-night talks and inside jokes. I look forward to the day that we get to open that capsule with our families around us and be just as emotional as we were writing and creating the banner together. U. Areni M., you have a heart on fire for Armenia. Your passion as a senior and JSC member has rubbed off on all of us. The message on the back of the banner is your words on our behalf, but it’s all credited to you. Thank you for everything you have done the last two years. I am so grateful to call you my ungerouhi. U. Beiyna, you have the voice of an Armenian angel and a very kind and loving personality. This weekend, I learned more about you as a first time JSC member and as a friend. I am thankful for the amazing times we had together and for JSC bringing us close. I hope that our friendship continues for as long as we’re alive. U. Areni A., you were one of my campers from the first time I attended Junior Seminar as a counselor in 2018! You have no idea how happy I was to hear that you would be on JSC with me. I’d like to think that I inspired you a little, but I can’t take all the credit for it. This year was also your first year on this council, and I could not be more proud of you. You make me laugh like no one else, especially when it comes to your snack bag and killing the moment with the crinkle of a bag of chips. U. Danielle, although we did not get to spend time with you over the weekend, you did a lot of hard work behind the scenes for the council. I hope that you will be on JSC again next year so we can make memories for a lifetime. Lastly, U. Alex, thank you for dealing with all of us and our craziness. We are so happy that you are our CE fieldworker. You made being on JSC even more fun and to be honest less stressful than we imagined. Since it is imperative for the AYF to know and recognize its leadership, ideology and foundations, I would like to thank the members of the ARF “Shiragian” Central Committee and our AYF-YOARF Central Executive for their presence and wisdom throughout the weekend. Also, a big thank you to all the parents who send their children to Junior Seminar year after year. I am beyond thankful and honored to have been able to serve on this council and help plan a memorable weekend for all of them. With that being said, I’d like to reiterate U. Mike’s wise words and encourage you all to “keep going,” and I hope to see you all next year.