A picture of the Outstanding gala attendees at Toronto Armenian Community Centre, November 26, 2017
By: Raffaella Keshishian
As high school was coming to an end, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue during my post-secondary education. My teachers told me to do what I liked, what I had a passion for and what I was good at. I was unsure of what that was, however, I always loved to read and write. I decided to pursue the arts. Granted, I did move around in order to change my major and school find a program that fit me best.
Now in my third year of university at Ryerson, I’ve learned two things. The first thing I learned was in order to be successful and get further in my career I have to be active about networking and finding opportunities for myself to gain experience as a journalist. This past summer while working for the Armenian summer camp: Jampar, I expressed to the director at ARS Toronto that I was studying journalism, loved to write, and suggested writing an article on the Jampar experience and culture. As simple as letting this be known, I was able to have my work published across the city I grew up in.
This leads to the second thing I learned. As you explore opportunities for yourself, these experiences can open doors for you. Jampar ended at the end of August, but in November I received an e-mail from ARS Toronto Roubina Chapter inviting me to an event honouring 20th-century hero Sara Corning, where I could educate myself on my Canadian’s historic personalities and network. This opportunity was for youth in the ARS community with a passion for law or journalism. The article I wrote in the summer paved the path for me in order to attend this event.
The gala which took place on November 26, 2017, honoured Sara Corning by having her family present from Nova Scotia, members of the Congress in attendance, and staff and students from the Armenian school. Growing up Armenian, the Armenian Genocide was a topic I was educated on since before I could remember. I knew all the facts and I know that majority of my friends who are not Armenian, haven’t heard of it.
Canadian nurse Sara Corning was not Armenian herself — I’m sure you can tell that by her last name — yet she risked her safety while rescuing 5,000 children, most under 12 years old. After two clinics for the wounded during the genocide she opened in Turkey were shut down by Turkish officials, she relocated to the orphanage. She never gave up on the Armenians, demonstrating her passion for her job to take care of others and the heroic qualities our race needed to survive the burning city. Corning was an unspoken woman who was unafraid to express her values.
Before the keynote speaker, Dr. Jean Augustine took to the podium, Canadian politician and liberal member of the House of Commons of Canada Melanie Joly said a few words before introducing her. Joly spoke with confidence and a smile as she let everyone in attendance know they we all have an important role in the present and our shared future. With that, we have to focus on what brings us together and not what divides us. She knew how to approach the topic of genocide with compassion. She then touched on the power of multiculturalism and how it brings out nation together. As a representative of Ahuntsic-Cartierville, which is a federal electoral district in Quebec, Canada, this led to her announcement that the 2018 Francophone summit will be held in Armenia. This is a huge step for the country of Armenia to raise awareness for the genocide.
The gala’s keynote speaker Dr. Jean Augustine is an outspoken trailblazer and social activist. In 1993, she was elected the first Black female Member of Parliament. From Grenada and the daughter of a sugar cane plantation worker, her upbringing was not easy. Her life theme is “live to serve,” and she made sure to express how proud she is of the example Sara Corning set and the glowing legacy she left.
Dr. Augustine had her own relation to the Armenian Genocide, as she sat at the same table at the House of Commons of Canada with Sarkis Assadourian, who was the first Armenian-Canadian to be elected and prides himself as a descendant of genocide survivors.
She was also part of the historic resolution when the House of Commons of Canada passed the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act voted to reverse a long-standing policy and passed a resolution rejecting the Turks for committing genocide against Armenians in 1915. Dr. Augustine voted to pass the motion, which won and the House acknowledged the Armenian genocide of 1915 and condemned the act as a crime against humanity officially in 2004.
Dr. Jean Augustine had lots of wisdom to share. Her grandmother taught her to set goals and believe in herself, and that hard work and dedication makes anything you set your mind to achievable. My grandmother taught me the same thing.
Dr. Augustine knows that greater value lays in all of us, and a lesson we can draw about human spirits from Sara Corning’s story is predominant will. She asked everyone if Sara Corning was alive, what would she do? This question is something I think about months after the gala. The answer lays in all of us, as we all have the capacity to fight and speak up for what is right. Courage can conquer adversity, and as Dr. Jean Augustine said: “together we must raise the bar.”
Before she left the podium, she quoted the ancient Greek Philosopher Aristotle: “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” She used this famous quote to let us know that saying and doing nothing, is, in fact, saying and doing something.
I’ve taken this knowledge and passed on advice to me since that night. I ran into Dr. Jean Augustine two days later at Mattamy Centre at Ryerson University at The Economics of Equality: Advancing Women and Girls to Change the World event where Michelle Obama was speaking and I had to opportunity to speak to Dr. Jean Augustine and let her know her speech a few days earlier inspired me.
I have taken away three lessons with me from this experience. The first is to follow your passion. I loved to write since I was in elementary school, and although I had to transfer schools and find what suited me best, I can truly say I’m content with what I am doing now. Sara Corning also demonstrated this. She was passionate about helping others. Secondly, I learned that one opportunity can lead to others that are priceless. Never say no to an opportunity, and go out of your way to create experiences for yourself. No one can help you if they don’t know how to. Lastly, I learned how important my voice is. I can express my voice through my writing, which is why I love to write. Don’t stay silent, because not doing anything is actually doing something — but is it beneficial?
Thank you to ARS Toronto Roubina Chapter for creating opportunities for Armenian youth like myself. I am truly inspired.