BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
UNIVERSAL CITY–The Trojan spirit rang throughout the third anniversary celebration of the University of Southern California Institute of Armenian Studies at the Universal City Hilton Sunday, where among the 700 attendees and honorees were billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, former California Governor George Deukmejian and construction mogul Ronald Tutor.
In marking its third anniversary, the USC Institute of Armenian Studies chose to honor five notable California Armenia’s and three institutions that have made a significant impact on the lives of Armenia’s throughout the world. Along with Tutor and Deukmejian, actor Mike Connors, former Secretary of Navy Paul Ignatius and noted University of Nevada-Las Vegas football coach Jerry Tarkanian also were honored. The Lincy Foundation and the United Armenia Fund were two organizations that were honored for their continued commitment to providing for the needs of Armenia and Armenia’s throughout the world. The California Courier, which was marking its 50th anniversary, was also honored as the oldest English-language weekly in California.
“I’d like to see a more happy, more free, more prosperous Armenia. I want everything for Armenia,” Kerkorian told Horizon News anchor Hayk Tovmasyan during a brief chat.
Tutor, who took a construction company founded by his father and turned it into a multi-million dollar national empire know as Tutor-Saliba, was introduced by C.L. Max Nikias, USC’s Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs. Prior to the eloquent introductions, Tutor’s family friends Judge Dickran and Geraldine Tevrizian presented reflections of life with the Tutors as they were growing up in the fledgling California community. Their friendship has lasted throughout the decades and continued to praise the Tutors commitment to the Armenian-American community.
In his remarks, Tutor, a USC alumnus, thanked the institute for its contribution and praised his upbringing as an Armenian for instilling in him values of respect and the importance of family.
The state-of-the-art Tutor Engineering School at USC was recently completed and through a $30 million donation the new Ronald Tutor Student Center broke ground for construction and will be completed in the near future.
In his remarks, Charlie Ghailian, chair of the Leadership Council of the Institute, said that in the three years since its inception, $4 million has been raised to further Armenian studies in California. He praised those in attendance, as well as the leadership of USC and its alumni for making the Institute a resource center to help preserve the Armenian heritage in America.
In his briefing, Institute Director Prof. Richard Hrair Dekmejian outlined the programs of the institute, highlighting that a multi disciplinary minor in Armenian studies is being offered for the first at USC. He also stated that the institute was working toward various outreach programs for the community and the establishment of a full-fledged major in Armenian studies in the foreseeable future.
Video presentations chronicled the lives of Ronald Tutor and his contributions, notable Armenia’s in the US, as well as the activities of the Lincy Foundation, the United Armenia Fund and the California Courier.
Among other speakers at the event were Howard Gillman, Dean of USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, which houses the USC Institute of Armenian Studies. He highlighted the long history the University has HAD with the Armenian community, with the enrollment of the first Armenian at the University in 1907. Edward Roski, Jr. the incoming chair of the USC Board of trustees reaffirmed his commitment to the Armenian Studies Institute and highlighted the role Armenia’s have played in elevating USC’s stature in the academic world.
Connors, Ignatius, Tarkanian and Deukmejian each addressed the gathering, thanking the Institute for the honors.
In what was an interesting reflection ON the rich history of the Armenian community in California, Reese Cleghorn, who along with the late George Mason, founded the California Courier in Fresno, discussed the early days of the weekly as it aimed to engage a fast-growing English reading audience. Cleghorn, a former dean of the College of Journalism at the University of Michigan described his Columbia University classmate Mason’s enthusiasm for establishing the newspaper and his commitment TO creating a common ground for the Armenian community.
Courier Publisher Harut Sassounian, who is also the president of United Armenia Fund and Sr. Vice President of the Lincy Foundation, assessed the important work of the two organizations in assisting Armenia in the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake and their current efforts to impact critical aspects of Armenia’s infrastructure. Sassounian also highlighted the Lincy Foundation’s generous contribution to all 28 Armenian schools in Lebanon to continue their daily operations in the wake of the Middle East crisis.
The new president of the Lincy Foundation Jay Rakow described the foundation’s commitment to strengthening Armenia’s statehood through strategic investment and pledged continued support for institutions in the Diaspora.
Other guests at the banquet included Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s representative Lisa Kaloustian, Armenia’s Ambassador to the US Tatul Markarian, Armenia’s Consul General IN Los Angeles Armen Liloyan, Western Prelate, Arch. Moushegh Mardirossian, Western Primate, Arch. Hovnan Derderian, California State Assemblymember Paul Krekorian, Los Angeles Times Publisher David Hiller and LA Times Online Editorial Page Editor Tim Cavanaugh.
The evening began with USC Trojan Marching Band and the presentation of colors by USC Air Force ROTC Color Guard. Soprano Alenoush Yeghnazar accompanied on piano by Vatche Mankerian, who is also the Institute’s Program Director, performed the National Anthems and presented a lively musical interlude during the program.