Houry Boyamian has been a centerpiece of St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School in Watertown, Massachusetts for the past 35 years. A strong advocate for Armenian education, Boyamian has supported the thriving of the language and culture in the only Armenian day school in New England. After three and a half decades of service, she is retiring this June. Her role as principal will be filled by Garine Palandjian, Ph.D.
Growing up in Beirut, Boyamian studied at Nshan Palandjian Djemaran, at which her father Karnig Panian was vice principal. “I remember very well how he interacted with the students…he was the kindest man, but he was also very firm,” she reminisced recently in a conversation with the Weekly. “He had high expectations for himself and for others. He had a lot of integrity, and he loved his students.” Boyamian noted that “he was a great influence on me,” and this influence is seen in her work.
However, Boyamian did not always intend to follow in her father’s footsteps. She studied pharmacy in college, graduating in 1970 from St. Joseph University in Lebanon, and worked for Harvard Community Health Plan after moving to the United States during the Lebanese Civil War in 1986. It was only after school board representatives approached her that she decided to pursue a career in education. She accepted the role at St. Stephen’s in 1988, received her masters in education in 1994 from UMass Boston and set on a lifelong path of service to the Armenian community in Watertown.
“I did this because Armenian education is so important for the perpetuation of our culture, heritage and language,” Boyamian remarked.
This mission has motivated and guided Boyamian in her role as she encountered various challenges over time. In recent years, St. Stephen’s has flourished despite the teacher shortage, sharing space with sister organizations, and the COVID-19 pandemic. During that difficult year, Boyamian shared that “we had a very good health committee…we made everything possible for in-person education.”
Additionally, the administration is cautious with spending in hopes of keeping tuition low for families. “We do not spare funds when it comes to education, to the students, but on the other hand we are very cautious…In the administration, we wear different hats.” Through this budget, St. Stephen’s can be a school “for every Armenian who desires to give to their children Armenian education.”
After her retirement, Boyamian hopes that St. Stephen’s will work towards establishing a middle school, and one day, a high school. “Why not?” asked Boyamian. “We have many on the west coast; we should have one here on the east.”
With these challenges and hopes in mind, St. Stephen’s will continue to thrive under the leadership of Garine Palandjian. Boyamian praises Palandjian: “She cares about everything Armenian, and I’m very pleased and very happy that a young woman has decided to come and serve Armenian education.” Boyamian wishes her “a lot of success and a bright future.”
Palandjian will be working closely with a second generation of St. Stephen’s students. Boyamian shared that the passing down of Armenian education is her “biggest joy, when I see alumni students bringing their children to St. Stephen’s.” This year, for the first time, a child of an alumni will graduate.
What keeps families coming back to St. Stephen’s? “I have noticed that those children who know their language, who know their history, they are more confident in life. They know where they came from,” said Boyamian.
As a 35-year career at St. Stephen’s comes to a close, Boyamian continues to put her students first. “I am so busy that I’m not thinking about my retirement,” she confesses. “I’m just getting ready for the closing of the school, the graduation ceremonies, and all of the events that take place in June.” With the year’s end quickly approaching, she anticipates missing the people most, though she plans to remain local and stay in touch. The students, teachers and parents have made her role at St. Stephen’s a rewarding one.
“I have come to school every day with the happiness of doing something worthwhile. I never regretted one day for taking this many responsibilities, and I did it with real pleasure and fulfillment.