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 2004-06 Commencement
 Melkonian Graduation Address given by the Chairperson of Melkonian Educational Institution Board, Mr. SARKIS BUCHAKJIAN."Our goal is to transform Melkonian as the Eton of the Armenian Diaspora. On this memorable day of commencement, on behalf of the whole Melkonian Community, I publicly appeal to the AGBU Central Board to reconsider their decision of closure. Thank you for your attention and patience. SARKIS BUCHAKJIAN Chairperson of Melkonian Educational Institution Board (Graduation speech - June 12th, 2004) " Your Grace, Reverend Father,Dear Representative ofthe Armenian Community in Parliament,Mr. Bedros Kalaydjian and Mrs. Kalaydjian, Distinguished guests and parents, Dear Melkonian Staff and students, This is the ninth time for me and some other Board members that we participate in the traditional graduation ceremony of the Melkonian Educational Institute. This day has always been a day full of upbeat emotions. Yet this year, the graduation ceremony is charged with divergent ,. sentiments. On one hand, we are engulfed with joy and pride to share the successful departure of our 32 young people into a brighter future in the four corners of the world. On the other hand, we are overwhelmed with sadness and frustration, and we are appalled at the decision to close Melkonian in June 2005, this unique and reputable 78 year-old educational institution and cultural landmark. My presentation today will aim ·to answer questions about the AGBU Melkonian Educational Institution.These questions are: 1. Can AGBU take special pride ill Melkonian's academic achievements? 2. Does Melkonian's budget justify the school's development in terms of a) improved academic standards and b) the upgrading of its facilities/resources? 3. Are there unique advantages for Melkonian to be in Cyprus? 4. Melkonian being at the heart of more than 3,5 million Armenians living outside Armenia, does it have future prospects? 5. Can Melkonian become fmancially self-sufficient without being a burden to AGBU?  6. Under AGBU's leadership, has Melkonian been able to reinvent itself from an orphanage to a vocational and now to a quality high school by continuously adapting to the challenges facing~'''9ifferent generations of Armenian Youth, and by doing so has the legacy of Melkonian Brothers been respected?  7. Does supporting Melkonian help AGBU fulfill its mission: "To preserve and promote the Annenian heritage through worldwide educational, cultural and humanitarian programs"? Before delving into further details, the other Board Members and I are confident that the answer to all the above questions is yes! Is it justifiable to take such an extreme measure of closure when the alleged arguments are not convincing? What institution does not encounter difficulties? Even when those are characterized as existing problems, it would be the responsibility of its leadership to exhaust all options to find a solution, a remedy or a modified orientation. Only when all solutions are exhausted, may an extreme case of tenninating an operation be considered. Melkonian certainly does not deserve a verdict of closure. We have been told the financial situation was not the reason for closure. Nevertheless, it has been claimed for years to the public that the deficit of Melkonian reaches 1 million dollars yearly. This attitude is unjustified and does not comply with reality, as we have proven several times to the public. This negative attitude has discredited the reputation of the school. Most of AGBU schools have deficits, but the only alleged deficit of Melkonian has been highlighted. The present School Board was appointed in 1995. Members were selected from three different countries where each of them had served for a long time in different AGBU chapters. Through the continuous follow up and hard work of Board Members, and the dedicated effort of the Principal and the Staft: the school started to improve and become competitive with local best schools without jeopardizing the Annt(?ian heritage. This nineyear period can be considered as one of the most outstanding in the Melkonian history. Barely two years had passed, the Central Board notified us that there was a deficit in the budget and gave us a three- year deadline to balance it, otherwise the closure of the school would be implemented. We proved by figures that there would be no deficit if Melkonian earmarked revenues to be normally attributed to the school if they were to be considered as part of its incomes. The Melkonian Brothers trusted the School to AGBU and asked AGBU to take in charge its management. For that purpose, they donated AGBU a substantial amount to be converted as an Endowment Fund. It is common knowledge that the donated amount was 600000 English gold sovereigns in 1926. Presently, it is revealed in the records of AGBU that the Melkonian Endowment Fund is u.s. $4,647,000. The yearly income of this Endowment Fund fluctuates around US$ 500000. We wish to know the reason why this income has been concealed to the public during reports concerning the budget of Melkonian. Let us just remind you, at this occasion that during a meeting held on January 1st , 1910, the AGBU Central Board members unanimously took the oath not to deviate from the terms of any donation, whatever the circumstances were. Evidently, this decision applies to both Melkonian School and estates and the Melkonian Endowment Fund. Fifteen years ago, a building called the Melkonian Commercial Center was erected on some plots of Melkonian land, the purpose of which was to generate income and help balance the deficit. The project was partly financed by the sale of some plots of land of Melkonian, and by a loan obtained from a local bank. The loan was paid back by 1996. The yearly income of this Centre is about --- Cyp 200000, or $450000. This income has been concealed to the public by the Central Board,~. Besides these two major incomes, the Melkonian Endowment Fund and the Commercial Center, the school benefits from the Cyprus Government subsidy, and more incomes could have been generated through proj ects that could have been realized on the estate. When all these incomes are added, plus the tuitions paid by the students, the budget of Melkonian clearly shows a surplus. We have proven with accurate figures that Melkonian has no deficit if all the revenues of the school are taken into consideration. When we presented this picture to the Central Board, we were told that the school had to cover entirely its budget only by the tuitions paid by the students. This is an aberration. Only schools created as shops, just to make money, without any counterpart can operate that way. This naturally was extremely hard ·for the School Board to understand, since all institutions of strong tradition and high reputation hardly survive based on income from tuitions. They thrive on government supports, endowment funds, donations, fund raisings, bequests and other sources of incomes. Hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars are regularly donated to serious pedagogical institutions. Let me quote that recently, two academic institutions in Lebanon received respectively 10 million and 5 million dollars, from the same donor. This is an example among thousands. Without these helps, pedagogical institutions are bound to closure. They told us, I quote, "Successful schools do not have fmancial problems, and schools without fmancial problems are successful schools." unquote. Is financial status a criterion for a school to be become successful? Success of a school is not measured by its financial status, but its academic achievements. I still remember a speech delivered during a general meeting of AGBU, when the speaker announced that AGBU was particularly proud of one of its schools. For me, there was suspense,\to know if this particular school was Melkonian. At the end, the speaker announced the name of the school, not Melkonian of course, and he justified his choice because that particular school was covering its budget. Unfortunately, the criterion for the appreciation of a school is the same as that for a bank or a shoe factory. It is said that few students enroll at Melkonian, particularly ill the boarding section, and moreover, any weak student is accepted, just to fill the place. For your information, the student population increased from 160 to 251, between 1996 and 2003, in spite of rumors of closure and restrictive imposed measures concerning acceptance of students. When in 2002 the media began spreading the news of the closure of the school, it caused panic and distress in the school community. Despite the restrictive measures, the school managed to enroll 52 new students in 20022003. In the absence of any official statement, the public and the school community went through a frenzy of speculation. This affected the enrollment for the scholastic year, 2003-2004; the number of new students enrolled was only 27. In the summer of 1999, there was a public uproar for ··the decision to admit a limited number of non-Armenian students; the AGBU Central Board was swift to respond. I quote, "There is no doubt that the Melkonian will remain an Armenian educational school and will continue to hold as its primary mission, the education of the Armenian youth who can benefit from its distinguished programs." unquote. Coming to the restrictive imposed measures concerning tuitions, the Central Board asked a minimum of 80% of the tuition to be paid directly by the student, without any exception. Then, they asked 100% tuition from students coming from Armenia, Karabagh and Lebanon, thinking that the richest Armenians live in these 3 countries. Students from other countries had to pay a minimum of 70% of the tuitiOQ. We explained that these measures are detrimental for recruitment. We demonstrated that a school has a running fixed budget for expenditures, whether the student population is 200, 250 or 300. Any additional accepted student, paying a reduced tuition, may generate a net income. Evaluation of this missing income is about ---Cyp. 200000 yearly or$450000. In any serious school, some students pay the full tuition, but some others obtain scholarships from the school, according to their financial possibilities. Among these latter, we fmd our most brilliant students. Unfortunately, for the last 3 years, we have been told that, I quote ,"If parents truly value a boarding school education for their children, they must fully pay." unquote. Moreover, we have also been told to send back home our Lebanese students. They said, I quote, ''No admission is accepted from Lebanon, whatever the student can pay," unquote. What is the reason for this hostile attitude towards Lebanon? Is it because AGBU has one secondary school there? Compared to Melkonian, that school has a completely different academic program. Let us not forget that out of 1700 Melkonian graduates, more than 300 are from Lebanon. Another restrictive measure was the refusal of new students after the deadline of inscription period, so ma:QY had to go back home because of such an incomprehensible reason. No school refuses late admission if there is an available vacancy. Without these restrictive measures, the school population could have easily reached 400 today. This figure comes closer to the will of the donators, the Melkonian Brothers, whose wish was to have 500 students, male and female, in the school they founded. The principle of AGBU is not to refuse access to school, but on the contrary, facilitate the education of the largest possible youngsters in Armenian Schools. \, During the fIrst two years we were in charge, we were informed that the word deficit should not be used, but had to be replaced by the word scholarship, in case of students that couldn't pay the full tuition. For your information, the school and boarding facilities have been improved and upgraded to offer a better learning and living environment for our students. The buildings and grounds have undergone essential renovations. Melkonian's fmancial records demonstrate a positive growth in recent years. The income from tuitions had an increase of 260% from 1996 to 2003.This was due to the gradual and continuous increase in fees and the doubling of parent contribution for their children's education at Melkonian. Total expenditure, including capital expenditure, has increased at a lower rate since 1996. The expenditure increase from 1996 to 2003 was only 194%. The inevitable increase in general expenditure can be attributed mainly to the improved quality of teachers and their mandatory yearly raises on one hand, and the improvements of the school facilities and equipment on the other hand. In other words, this increase has been in favor of the general upgrading and development ofMelkonian. We have presented proposals of income generating projects to· improve the financial situation by using the potential facilities of the school grounds and eq\lipment. We have been approached by banks, sports federations, sports .asspciations, commercial institutions and schools for projects on BOT ~xs. Several joint ventures have been presented to exploit the material potential of the estate. Unfortunately, the idea of these projects has been rejected, because we have been told that they may provoke headaches. The real reason is probably the fact that these ·projects need a long time commitment. Finally, we still have got in mind the construction of a second commercial building on the estates. Nine years ago, with the nomination of the new Melkonian Board and a year later with the arrival of the new principal, the Central Board's target expectation was, I quote, "We don't care even if we have 100 students, but we want to run a quality school." unquote. This has been the driving force behind all restructuring improvements and development within the school. All our effort has been directed to upgrade the Melkonian status so as to be accepted by the Cyprus Government Melkonian as "similar to public secondary school" and at the same time to seek European accreditations. Before one generation, the Melkonian diploma was enough for graduates to start a professional life. However, the situation has presently changed. Most of our graduates wish to pursue higher education. For that reason, all our students are obliged to take international exams. All students who do not comply with the requirements of U.K. and U.S. universities do not receive the school diploma. The minimum standard required is higher than those required in most Armenian schools. We offer academic excellence to our students and prepare them for prestigious universities. At the same time, we immerse them in the Armenian culture and sensitize them to the challenge facing our people. The results of the exams are tangible proofs. In June 2003, we had phenomenal results with our graduating class of 27 students. Unfortunately, the five exceptional students, who were potential candidates for Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Stanford or I\1IT, enrolled in more modest universities due to financial difficulties. These high achievers had exceptional results in up to 5 A-levels, making them eligible for the most competitive univ~rsities. These results are particularly significant when we take into consideration the various backgrounds of our students and the wide range of their skills. It should also be noted that all the graduates are continuing their higher education. The present 32 graduating students have attained at least 4 grade Cs and 1 D at GCSE level, and have completed at least 2 A-level subjects. Eight of these students have excelled and are on the High Honor Distinction List. There are other indicators for Melkonian academic success. For example, Tamar Jourian earned a Fullbright Scholarship and the British Council Gold Medal, and Vrouyr Kaprielian was the first prize winner from Cambridge University for highest achievement in IGCSE exams in Cyprus. Based on a survey of our graduates for the last eight years, more than 90% of our graduates have gone to diverse universities worldwide, which is hardly matched by any other Armenian school. Apart from having established international academic standards, c the comprehensive Armenian program consolidates the Armenian identity of our students who learn Armenian language, literature, history and art. Moreover, components of the Armenian culture are nurtured through the different extracurricular activities, such as theater, folk dance, choir and journalism. The quality of the teachers, supervisors and administrative staff has improved with the prevailing conditions and means. Melkonian is offering comparable academic standards to exclusive schools in the UK and international schools in Europe. Our curriculum is based on the European model that offers depth and breadth. Enrollment in comparable private schools in Europe is generally around 400 students aged 3 to 18+, while Melkonian enrollment for age 11+ to 18+ has reached 251. While the teacher-student ratio in comparable boarding schools in Europe ranges from 5,6 to 10 students per teacher, Melkonian has a student-teacher ratio of 8,2 student per teacher, which is an ideal figure for a boarding school. OUf students from foreign countries receive instruction in their native language. Some students complete GCS Advanced Level examinations. Allow me to add here that this year, our school was inspected by language experts from Brussels, who were pleasantly surprised to see that the Melkonian language programs for frrst, second and foreign languages, conform to European standards. Apart from being a centre for Edexcel (Oxford University exams) in 2003, Melkonian has become a Cambridge University Exam Centre. Both affiliations are prestigious for Melkonian. The success of the Science Fairs realized by our students brought thousands of amazed visitors, and attracted the attention of the Cyprus Authorities and Cypriot educators. Melkonian is well equipped with the latest technologies as it has one of the best laboratories in Cyprus. Besides, its library, which is managed by a professional librarian, has a rich collection of Armenian and foreign books and valuable periodicals. Despite all the hurdles and through the relentless efforts of the School Community, there has been a continuous growth in enrollment, improved incomes, better conditions of buildings and facilities, a renewed image and enhanced relations with the public and private sectors in Cyprus and Armenian communities in the region. Through its acquired excellent reputation of quality, admission demands have been more than one hundred 10 ·1 1 yearly. This has allowed us to make a severe selection of acceptances b) choosing the most deserving candidates and improve the quality of the academic level. I have to remind the great efforts made by the PrincipaJ during her recruitment trips, sometimes in difficult conditions. As you have noticed in the given information, higher and unprecedented academic standards have been attained at Melkonian since the coming of the Principal and the School Board. Then, on what bases can AGBU judge that the school did not succeed in educational performance compared to the 1960's? No classroom has been visited and no qualified person has made a professional inspection concerning teaching. Why declare that Melkonian does not provide exceptional opportunities to its students? Thus, no assertion can be declared. Some people claim that the presence at Melkonian of students coming from 20 different cultural, social and economic backgrounds, with little knowledge of English or Armenian could be a handicap for the school d~velopment. Experience has proven, on the contrary, that this melting pot has been an enriching experience and favorable for the development of our students. They have to be tolerant, broad-minded and resourceful. The fact of living together during seven years, each one bringing the touch of his country, has been beneficial for all of them. There is an opening towards new cultures, traditions, and way of thinking. Homogeneity has been acquired through the efforts and the ability of the dedicated teachers and supervisors. OUf students are exposed to a multicultural Armenian reality as youths from Annenia and Diaspora come together and' forge important bonds,t~o. Melkonian is the crossroads for Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian language. If you just browse through < Hayatsk>, the periodical prepared by a team of students, you will be amazed by the quality and variety of the articles, and selected essays written in Armeni~, English, Greek, Russian and Bulgarian languages. The European Union, just enlarged, is composed of 25 countries. Its population speaks 21 different languages and has 'different economic and social levels. For example, the average of the purchasing power in Western Europe, being quoted 100, Luxembourg has a quotation of 180, whereas the Baltic countries and Poland do not reach even 40. However, these countries have united to live in common and form an entity. Their common denominator is that they are all Europeans, while at Melkonian the student population is Armenian. How is Melkonian's mission still relevant? The Diaspora Armenian reality has changed over the decades and this evolution is reflected in the history of Melkonian. It started as an orphanage in 1926 and evolved into a technical and vocational school. Having lost our intelligentsia during the I915 genocide, Melkonian has played an important role filling in that gap and prepared people for the roles that society needs, such as teachers, writers, poets, editors, public servants.... As we are at the threshold of the 21 st century, the Armenian communities are facing new challenges. Thus, they need professionals who are able to tackle the struggles of the international arena, while at the same time pursue the ideals ofthe Armenian people. Today, Melkonian has a dual mission: 1) To offer academic excellence to Armenian children around the world and prepare them for prestigious universities. 12 2) To immerse them in the Armenian Culture and sensitize them to the challenges facing the Armenian people. Melkonian is presently the only and unique boarding school in the Armenian Diaspora accepting students from countries where families wish to ensure their children both Armenian and international quality education. The school is located in a European country, safe and attractive, with a congenial climate. The only other Armenian Boarding school in the Diaspora was the Murat Raphaelian in Venice, which unfortunately closed a few years ago. Despite the trend for globalization, there is a new awakening among the new Armenian generation in the Diaspora to rediscover their roots and heritage. This profound interest is the binding sociological element for their existence. The role of the Armenian elementary and secondary school is irreplaceable for the preservation and perpetuation of our nation (Azkabahbanonm) because only the Armenian school can provide sustained immersion in the Armenian language, literature, history and culture. The role of out-of-school activities, such as youth projects, Sunday schools, summer camps or visits to Annenia are important and beneficial, but they cannot replace the role ofAnnenian elementary and secondary school. Without our Armenian schools in the Diaspora, the Western Armenian language and culture is particularly endangered. Melkonian has been playing an important role as the bastion for Western Annenian language and should continue so for posterity. OUf generations may dissolve in larger cultures if our Armenian linguistic and cultural heritage is not preserved. The Armenian school's mission is irreplaceable. The Melkonian boarding school is an excellent 13 transition from home to university. Students learn the skills of self-reliance and forge life-long solid friendships and sometimes even leading to marriages. Moreover, parents are amazed by noticing unbelievable improvements in the behavior and the character of their children after seven years ofboarding school at Melkonian. It: according to AGBU, Melkonian has not fulfilled its mISSIon, why hasn't the Central Board redefmed that mission? Through all communications and meetings for years with the School Board, the focus has been the financial aspect. The displacement of various Armenian communities worldwide has an impact on the composition of the student population of Melkonian. Ensuring both Armenian and international education, in a true Armenian atmosphere, to students coming from more than 20 countries where such education is not available, is an appreciable vision of the mission of Melkonian. It is our mission to encourage the new generation to speak and read fluent Armenian and to struggle against the idea that Armenian is a dead language. For example, results of our students m inter-school contests ill Armenian literature are highly eloquent. In which AGBU schools, IS Armenian language taught as intensely as it is at Melkonian? Some people think that Armenians from the East will finally migrate to the West. However statistics show that 3, 5 millions of Armenians, more than half of the total Armenian population, live between Russia, Europe and the Middle East. The location of Cyprus is just in the heart of these populations. This fact gives the school an important role to play for the coming generations. Pretending that Armenians of Post-Soviet countries will integrate the customs of the Western world and will not send anymore their children to Armenian schools is just a mere senseless speculation. On the 14 contrary, it has been seen Armenians are searching for their traditions after more than half a century of deprivation. Statistics show that onJy 10% of Armenian students of the Diaspora attend Armenian schools. Of course, this percentage varies according to each country. For example, in Lebanon, the rate is 75%, and Cyprus could reach the same rate if Melkonian remains active. Our aim is to increase that ratio in countries where Armenian communities live. Closing an Armenian school will have a negative effect for this struggle. We have been criticized for the acceptance of students from Armenia and Kharabagh. Their aim for their coming to Melkonian is the knowledge of the Occidental Armenian Language, the search of an international diploma, and finally the establishment of contacts between the youth of Armenia with the youth of the Diaspora. The Occidental education they acquire at Melkonian is profitable for them after they return home. They are the liaisons between Homeland and the Diaspora.Besides,Melkonian benefits from their presence on the campus as they bring with them the wealth of Homeland; their presence not only enriches cultural events, such as theater, folkdance, music, poetry, but it creates an Armenian atmosphere on the campus as well. Keeping the Armenian identity is a continuous process that requires the joint fruitful contribution of the family., the school, the church, cultural centers and sports clubs. Melkonian has a vital role to play in the preservation of our human resources. It is a beacon of enlightenment. Melkonian is one of the major national institutions in the Diaspora,similar to the See of the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicy in Antelias, the See of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Convent of Bzoummar in Lebanon, the Mechitarist Fathers' University 15 on the island of San Lazzaro near Venice, and the Gulbenkian Foundatior in Lisbon. These are the pillars ofthe Armenian heritage in the Diaspora. Melkonian is not comparable with any other ,furnenian school. It is th~ yeast to preserve the Armenian identity of the youth in the Diaspora. It play~ a unique vital role worldwide as the bastion of the Occidental Armeniar education. It is a benediction not only for the Middle Eastern countries, bU1 for the whole Armenian world as well. It is not a school for Armenians, but ~ genuine Armenian school. It has its own and unique character; its mission i~ different from the other schools because of the coexistence on campus oj youth coming from different backgrounds. Melkonian's closure will be disastrous and damaging to the Armenia.t1 cause worldwide. As a minority, Armenians in Cyprus has a constitutional enshrined right. The closure of the school will cripple the status of the Armenian Cypriots. With the ratification of the European charter for Regional Languages on December 1st, 2002, Cyprus conveyed its recognition of the Armenian language as a "non-territorial language". The Cyprus government wishes to reinforce Melkonian as an attractive cultural pole to the Armenian Diaspora. After taking in charge the entire tuition of all Armenian Cypriot students in Melkonian, the govemmenthas allocated a budget of --- Cyp. 70000 for the renovation of the technical equipment of the school. Another contribution, in study, is for the expected sports equipment and installations. Recently, the Council of Ministries signed an allocation of ----Cyp. 100000, valid if Melkonian continues to exist. Melkonian genuinely enjoys the support and generosity of the Cyprus government. It has the unique liberty and encouragement of the Cypriot government to offer in depth education and to preserve all the symbols of the 16 Armenian identity, such as literature, history, art, traditions, values and customs. This advantage is not found anywhere else in the world. We express our gratitude to the Cyprus government for its generous attitude. We also thank the Armenian representative at the Parliament, Mr. Bedros Kalaydj ian, for his efforts to serve the cause ofMelkonian. Other projects are still in course with the government for future realizations. Let us just mention the creation of an Ethnic Armenian Museum in the villa of the Melkonian Brothers, the upgrading of the historical buildings, a new sports facility with a swimming pool. We have even considered the extension of Melkonian to a higher education (college level). Relations between Cyprus and Armenians go as far as to the Cilician kingdom, between the 11th and the 14 centuries. Saint Agar's Convent, Saint Mary's Church in Nicosia and the Melkonian Educational Institution are proofs ofArmenian presence on the island for centuries. I wish to quote Mr. George Lanilis in the Cyprus Weekly.He writes: "Cyprus is proud of its Armenian community and Melkonian is a source of Armenian culture that we consider as being a part of ourselves." Let us also remind the generosity·of the Cyprus government concerning the 3 branches ofthe Nareg elementary school. At present, Armenian language is recognized as one of the 54 languages of the European Union. Accession to Europe will benefit Melkonian as a private school serving the Armenian minority. Thus European funding will increase in the years to come. It's regrettable with all these benefits from the Cyprus government that the Central Board of AGBU has underestimated the importance of Melkonian at the threshold ofthe 21 st century. 17 In June 2003, the Central Board informed us that a person was appointed to oversee all academic, fmancial and operational functions of Melkonian for one year. However, during that year, this person had almost no contacts with the administration of the school. Later, we learned that his real function was to make an appreciation about the viability of the school. Actually, we read in his report which I quote, "The study concluded clearly the school cannot continue on its current path." I wonder on what basis such a report was prepared, without any consultation with the School Board. Can one single report, of one single person, determine the future of a 78 year- old school and endanger the future ofits students? The ultimate decision to close the school IS detrimental for the Armenian people. How can such a decision be executed to a thriving and successful educational institution that has, and still serves the Armenian communities in unique ways! The immediate impact of such a decision is felt on the students, the prospective new comers, and the school staff. The dismay and solidarity of the Cypriot people, through the media, has inspired the Armenian people, AGBU members, Alumni members and Melkonian constituencies. The execution of such a decision will destroy the legacy of very eminent philanthropists, such as the Melkonian Brothers, whose contribution in 1926 to the Armenian people was and has been unique in all Armenian history. AGBU gained at that time prestige recognition of the Armenian nation. It is also our deep concern that the closure of Melkonian will have a domino effect on other Armenian educational institutions throughout the Diaspora and cause the weakening of the Armenian school, which is one of the pillars of our continuity as a nation. 18 During the numerous meetings with the Central Board responsibles, all these arguments have been put in evidence. Reports have been mailed to each Central Board member. I have even propost:d to meet the Board members in New York, to present the views of the School Board. The only positive point, which we have managed to obtain, has been the grace period of one year, by postponing the closure date to June 2005 instead of June 2004 as planned. Instead of considering the creation of an advisory committee to study other alternatives after the closure decision, such a committee should have been created before taking the decision. This committee could have studied carefully the case of Melkonian, with all its aspects. After serious contacts with the School Board, administration, staff and parents of the school, the committee could have given an objective point ofview. Melkonian has been a credential for AGBU through its history, with the quality of its graduates for almost 78 years of existence. Under the wise leadership of AGBU, Melkonian has survived the trials and the tribulations of the past eight decades. With such past tenacious ·experience and strong tradition of excellence, Melkonian is perfectly capable of continuing its journey into the future, the 21st century. It is regretful that such a credential be sacrificed without any justification. It is unthinkable that AGBU will celebrate its centennial without Melkonian, which is its "Jewel in the Crown." Let me just quote a few words of our irreplaceable late AGBU President, Alex Manougian: "Any ..closure of an educational institution is a national disaster. It is our wish that the gates of our beloved Melkonian remain open, in order that generations of young education lovers realize their dreams and become the bearers of the Melkonian torch." unquote. Our goal is to transform Melkonian as the Eton of the Armenian Diaspora. On this memorable day of commencement, on behalf of the whole Melkonian Community, I publicly appeal to the AGBU Central Board to reconsider their decision of closure. Thank you for your attention and patience. SARKIS BUCHAKJIAN Chairperson of Melkonian Educational Institution Board (Graduation speech - June 12th, 2004)