BY VINCENT SCATENA
NECO and U.S. Armed Forces Pay Tribute to Immigrants Who Embody the American Ideal
NEW YORK—For nearly three decades, Harry Nadjarian seems to have been fated to collide with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor — a prestigious award given to only 100 recipients each year, and which applauds the contributions made to America by immigrants and their children. This past Saturday, Nadjarian’s fate was realized in a prestigious ceremony on the very island that has welcomed over twelve million immigrants to this country, and which lends its namesake to the award. However, to see the uncanny inevitability in Nadjarian’s life path, a little background is needed.
The year was 1982 when President Ronald Reagan sought to restore the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island to their former glory. This was not merely in preparation for Lady Liberty’s upcoming centennial, but was also an indicator of the nation’s curiosity and newfound pride in heritage; it was the first era in U.S. history that truly began celebrating diversity. Four years later in July of ‘86, during the centennial celebration on Ellis Island, dubbed Liberty Weekend, President Reagan did two things important to this story: first, he honored twelve naturalized immigrants who had made great contributions to America, with the Medal of Liberty and second, he personally bore witness to Mr. Harry Nadjarian being sworn in by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger. Both of these actions created ripples in Nadjarian’s life that would again intersect twenty-nine years later in May of 2015.
Many people who were present during Liberty Weekend in the summer of ‘86, including then New York City mayor Ed Koch, loved the idea behind the Medal of Liberty, but felt honoring just twelve was not enough. These people knew that as long as Lady Liberty stands, other foreign locales would continue to do as she demands: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” They knew this country would continue to grow, and it would be these future immigrants who would continue to make the country great, and who should also have an opportunity to be honored. So, later that year, in order to continue in the spirit of appreciation encapsulated by the Medal of Liberty, the first class of recipients were presented the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
Since its inception, the Medal has been given to some of the United States’ most recognizable names, including George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Martin Scorsese, Frank Sinatra, Gloria Estefan, Muhammad Ali, Gerald Ford, and the list goes on in the same vein. This past weekend, among the numerous other notable names, one “Harry H. Nadjarian” was invited back to Ellis Island for a second time, and for a second honor.
In the early evening of Saturday, May 9th of this year, one hundred Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipients and invited guests descended from the Battery Park Ritz Carlton tower in black ties and gowns, and caught an NYPD Marine-escorted ferry across the Hudson to Ellis Island. Upon arrival, Nadjarian and the other honorees were escorted down a long red carpet flanked by rows of soldiers standing at attention out of respect for both the award, and those about to wear it. The ceremony itself was presented by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO) and co-hosted by each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. And while the Master of Ceremonies did his job well, it was the pomp and circumstance—the ritual—brought by the soldiers and officers, that gave this event the visceral tone of which the Medal and its recipients were so deserving. For Harry Nadjarian, it was befitting all his years of hard work, job creation, and philanthropy. For the audience, it was a time to give thanks.
There was a reason that Harry was one of very few selected to be personally presented with citizenship by President Ronald Regan, 29 years ago. It is the same reason he received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor earlier this May. When interviewed by the Los Angeles Times in 1986, prior to his New York trip, Harry said, “I never expected this honor.” In March of this year when I had the opportunity to ask Harry about this most recent award he echoed, “I never expected this honor.” The fact that Mr. Nadjarian never expects these accolades is yet another testament to the benevolent focus with which he lives his life.