Emotional Reunion in Montreal for Karen Jeppe Class of ‘88

The class of 1988 of the Karen Jeppe Secondary School in Aleppo (Jemaran) celebrated their 30th graduation anniversary reunion June 29 to July 1st, 2018. Twenty-Seven alumni, 56 attendees including spouses and children as well as a former teacher, gathered in Montreal on the Canada Day long weekend.

The idea was the brainchild of Sylvia Bourdjian-Matta from Vienna, Austria. Sylvia had initially thought of a 25th anniversary reunion in Aleppo, Syria. However, given the situation in Aleppo for the past five years, it had been impossible to organise such an event. As the 30th anniversary was fast approaching, Sylvia thought of alternative locations, in order not to miss this new milestone. She first explored the possibility of a gathering in Yerevan, Armenia; however, at the end, due to feasibility issues related to travel and visa requirements, Montreal was selected as an alternative location. After all, there was a large number of Syrian Armenians who settled in Canada in the past three years, including many alumni of Karen Jeppe “Jemaran”.

Sylvia contacted Peggy Pailian from Los Angeles and Rita Karamanougian from Ottawa, and both agreed to form, along with Sylvia, an organising committee. Tasks were divided among the three; Peggy serving as contact and PR person for those living in the US, especially California, Sylvia volunteering to recruit participants from Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific, while Rita volunteering as the contact person in Canada, as well as the local event organiser and liaison. The first conference meetings took place in the fall of 2017, followed by many others until the reunion weekend.

Participants from abroad started arriving in Montreal on June 28 and 29, from all over the world: Australia, Austria, Greece, Singapore, the United States (New York City, New Jersey, Detroit, Greater Los Angeles area) and Canada (Ottawa, Toronto), to join those from Montreal-Laval. At the end, despite several alumni having to cancel their travel plans for various reasons, a total of 27 from the class of ’88 converged to Montreal.

Friday evening, June 29, approximately 40 individuals gathered at the Armenian Community Centre restaurant. Some had not seen each other for 30 years. The atmosphere was filled with a mix of emotions, nostalgia and happiness at the same time, hugs and kisses. Everybody had a chance to reconnect with others from the ’88 promotion. There was also a surprise by one of the alumni, Nerses Hadidian, who presented everyone as a welcome gift copies of his books of poems in Armenian.

The next day, Saturday June 30, two events were planned, followed with a banquet in the evening at Restaurant Rouby, attended by 56 participants. A walking tour of Old Montreal with a visit to Notre-Dame Cathedral was scheduled in the morning, as well as a boat tour on the St-Lawrence River early afternoon.

In the evening, the owners of Restaurant Rouby, Vahe and Therese Tejirian had reserved their restaurant in its entirety to host the banquet which started at 7 pm. Two guests of honor were invited; His Excellency Archbishop Suren Kataroyan, who had personally presented the high school graduation diplomas to the graduates 30 years earlier, and a former teacher, Mr. Antranig Bakkarian, accompanied by his wife. Sylvia Bourdjian-Matta acted as Master of Ceremony for the entire event.

After the blessings by H.E. Archbishop Kataroyan, a succulent dinner was served. Entertainment was provided by DJ Garo Zoulamian, from Armenian and Middle Eastern music to hits from the 1980s. Needless to say the dance floor was always busy. A raffle draw was held for twenty prizes offered by generous businesses and individuals. It was followed by a surprise draw of a special prize consisting of a limited edition silver coin from the Armenian Mint, donated by Rita Karamanougian. An impromptu auction was also held for a drawing by one of the participating alumni, internationally renowned visual artist Kevork Mourad. After the cake cutting ceremony by the organising committee members, a special gift was presented to the alumni, consisting of a set of coasters imprinted with the reunion emblem designed by Peggy Pailian. The banquet lasted till the wee hours of the morning.

The final event was held on Sunday July 1st. It consisted of a brunch at Maggie Oakes restaurant at the William Grey hotel in Old Montreal. After this final event, participants gathered for group pictures. Nobody wanted to leave after the photo session, and everybody gathered in the lobby of the hotel. Eventually, it was time to leave and farewells were very emotional, with everybody agreeing to meet again in 2023 for the 35th anniversary.

Although one of the goals of this reunion was to reconnect and reminisce about school days, another important purpose was raising funds for Karen Jeppe “Jemaran” to secure maximum enrolment of students. Approximately, three thousand Canadian Dollars were collected from the raffle draws, the auction and the donations. This entire amount will be sent to Aleppo.

MI (Ottawa)

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