Decades of dedication to her native language, history and culture led former professor and director of the Armenian Studies Program Hermine Mahseredjian to a lifetime achievement award Sunday from the university’s Alumni and Friends of the Armenian Studies Program.
‘The College of Humanities is proud to be the home of the Armenian Studies Program,’ said Elizabeth Say, Ph.D., dean of the humanities department. ‘We honor a program that strives to bring an understanding of Armenian studies for the students here.’
Mahseredjian also received the coveted ‘Community Hero’ award from the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) and a proclamation in honor of her achievements from the State Assemblyman Paul Krikorian.
Over 150 alumni, faculty and students gathered at the Grand Salon on campus to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Armenian Studies Program. The evening was filled with Armenian representations, including Armenian food, music and even symbolic centerpieces, which were made with tree branches and pomegranates.
Renowned Armenian folk singer Salbi Mailian performed four famous folk songs, including ‘The Daughter’s Song,’ ‘A Voice Just Rang,’ a song by Sayat Nova and the unity circle dance. Award-winning author, seven-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and former Los Angeles Times reporter Mark Arax spoke at length about his Armenian roots and heritage and the importance of having an Armenian Studies Program on campus available to the large population of Armenian students attending the university.
‘The threat of technology could swallow you up and your culture,’ said Arax. Programs like this are an example of the balance needed to honor your heritage without committing treason, he added.
Mahseredjian joined the CSUN faculty in 1983 as a volunteer just to be able to teach an Armenian Culture class for the Armenian students attending the university. Determined to pass her understanding and knowledge of the Armenian culture to her students, she stayed on and taught without taking a paycheck home for five years.
Chicano/a studies professor Jorge Garcia recalls Mahseredjian saying, ‘If you don’t have the money, I will teach for free.’ This is ‘because of her love, dedication and personal commitment that she has within her,’ added Garcia.
Over the past 25 years, Mahseredjian worked diligently with the CSUN administration, community leaders, philanthropists, alumni and students in her mission to expand the Armenian learning experience on campus, which resulted in the establishment of the Armenian Studies Program in 1988, a minor degree program in 1991 and a student and faculty exchange program in 2004 between CSUN and Yerevan State University in Armenia.
‘The Armenian Studies Program at CSUN is a very large brick in the building of the Armenian language and culture in the U.S.,’ said Gabriel Injejikian, former principal of the first Armenian school in the United States, Ferrahian High School.
Mahseredjian was born in Jerusalem during the time it was ruled by Palestine, where she received her primary education at the school of St. Translators and completed her secondary education in three years at Melkonian Education Institute, a boarding school in Nicosia, Cyprus. Her tuition was fully paid by scholarships.
After marrying an Armenian businessman from Syria when she was 18, Mahseredjian moved to Aleppo, Syria, where she had three children, two daughters and a son.
They lived wealthy in Syria as they operated a successful electronics and appliance store, but left it all behind in 1966 to pursue freedom and better opportunities for their children in United States.
Although Mahseredjian’s marriage didn’t survive, she continued to raise her three children by herself and learned English.
She went from teaching at Ferrahian Armenian School to becoming the counselor of both Byrd Junior High School in Glendale and Glendale High School, to special education counselor for the entire Glendale Unified School District and curriculum coordinator of Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.
‘Being in the Diaspora it is very important for me to learn my culture, history and language to pass it on to future generations as well as to my children,’ said senior liberal studies major Ani Demirjian.
Armenian philanthropist Alex Manoogian was an instrumental part of Mahseredjian’s success in expanding the Armenian studies program by donating over $115,000 toward the studies’ fellowship and scholarship programs. Varaz Shahmirian, an engineer has also contributed to the expansion by donating tens of thousands of dollars to help establish the minor program in Armenian Studies.
‘My biggest wish is that one day we will all celebrate the inauguration of the bachelor’s degree in Armenian,’ said Mahseredjian.
Last year, Mahseredjian retired from teaching and directing the Armenian Studies program and passed the torch to professor Vahram Shehmmassian, Ph.D., who now directs the program for over 3,500 students. Mahseredjian is currently serving as the executive director for a newly opened Armenian Charter School in the Valley on an entirely volunteer basis.
‘She’s getting older, but not stepping back from doing things for the community. I want to see myself in her shoes someday,’ said Armenian Students Assocation president Lusine Harutyunyan.