The recent naming of the Kevork & Cecile Keshishian Student Union has spurred a great deal of enthusiasm among students, faculty and staff of the American University of Armenia (AUA). The generous contribution of the Keshishian family toward naming the student union will leave a lasting legacy honoring the lifelong community service and meaningful impact the couple has made in Lebanon and the US. Their name inscribed at the front entrance of the AUA student union will inspire students for generations to come.
Cecile Keshishian, née Simonian, and her late husband Dr. Kevork Keshishian were born to survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Kevork grew up in Aleppo, Syria and Cecile in Beirut, Lebanon.
After completing his secondary education in Aleppo, Kevork won a scholarship and moved to Beirut to study medicine at Saint Joseph Jesuit University. After graduation, he practiced pediatrics until emigrating to the US in 1968. He then switched his specialty to radiology, embarking on a three-year residency and becoming an American board-certified radiologist. Dr. Keshishian was a well-known speaker and lecturer in the Armenian Diaspora. He was also a pioneer in the field of family dynamics and authored four books in Armenian: How to Raise Kids in a Happy Home; Puberty & Its Problems; Love & Family; and Sexual Harmony in Married Life.
Cecile pursued her secondary school education at the Melkonian Educational Institute in Cyprus and majored in business. Upon returning to Beirut, she began working as an executive assistant at Canada Dry International at a time when the company was expanding into various countries in the Middle East. Later, after the couple emigrated to the US, she continued her education while raising their two children Alek and Aleen and graduated magna cum laude from Notre Dame College with a double degree in American history and business.
Cecile served as president of Manchester, New Hampshire’s CMC Hospital Associates (with over 600 members) and the first non-American-born president of the New Hampshire Medical Auxiliary. She was also one of the founders of the New Hampshire Good Samaritans Suicide Prevention Hotline and a board member of the American Children’s Theatre.
In 2005, Cecile was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor — the only award of its kind sanctioned by both the US Senate and House of Representatives — joining the illustrious company of Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger, Bill and Hillary Clinton and many other notable Americans.
Cecile notes that her philanthropic spirit was passed on to her by her mother. Orphaned during the Genocide at the age of four, her mother overcame the trauma she had experienced and worked hard to graduate from the American University of Beirut School of Nursing. “She became a nurse who then used her earnings to educate me and my three siblings. Her philosophy of life, which she also passed on to us, was to ‘leave the world a better place than you found, or else your life would have no meaning,’” Cecile recalls, recounting how her family would regularly welcome refugees into their home during the war in Lebanon in the 1970’s, helping them find jobs, enroll in local schools and find housing.
Her husband similarly bore a strong community service mindset. An active community leader since his youth in Lebanon, Dr. Keshishian continued his efforts in the US as a member of the AGBU International Central Board while also serving as president of the Tekeyan Cultural Association, consistently focused on further expanding programs and chapter memberships throughout the US and Canada. Dr. Keshishian likewise instilled the notion of philanthropy into their children at a very young age. Both Alek and Aleen now donate time and money to various Armenian and American causes.
Cecile recalls how she and her husband learned about AUA before it was even founded, when Dr. Keshishian and Dr. Mihran Agbabian, both members of the AGBU Central Board, discussed the potential establishment of a university to bring Western-style education to Armenia. The idea was soon realized with the backing of philanthropist and president of AGBU International Louise Manoogian Simone, who suggested that this university should have an affiliation with a university in the US. Cecile explains that “as descendants of survivors of genocide, we always prioritized education over all else and believed that education opens doors. It is a privilege to help AUA educate Armenians and expose them to all the benefits of a Western education.”
A few years ago, when considering the AUA facility where they would want to leave a lasting family legacy, Dr. and Mrs. Keshishian felt that the Student Union would be the most fitting location — a place all students use for meetings, study groups, discussions and extracurricular activities. “We hope that students at AUA recognize the importance and blessing of a great education and that they will use the knowledge they gain to make their community and the world a better place.”
Located on the first floor of the Paramaz Avedisian Building (PAB), the Kevork & Cecile Keshishian Student Union measures 300 square meters, with a capacity of 150 people. The facility houses a large collaborative space, a kitchenette, a study room, the Math & Writing Center and a meeting room frequently used by student committees and the Student Council.