WELLESLEY, Mass. — Joy Renjilian-Burgy, associate professor of Spanish at Wellesley, has earned multiple awards and honors over her teaching career, but perhaps few as indicative of her devotion to Spanish language and literature as the medal she received on April 10 from King Felipe VI of Spain.
La Orden de la Cruz de Isabel la Católica (Order of the Cross of Isabel the Catholic) is one of the highest civil honors awarded by the Spanish government to Spaniards, as well as foreign-born citizens who have distinguished themselves in various professions fostering the study of the diverse languages and cultures of Hispanic nations.
Renjilian-Burgy has taught at Wellesley for 38 years and has served in key leadership roles in regional, national, and international organizations.
Renjilian-Burgy‘s path to high honor in Spain began in the industrial city of Holyoke, Mass., in the Connecticut River Valley. Her mother, who came to the United States after the Armenian Genocide, worked in a paper factory, while her father, also Armenian, worked in a silk mill. “We were a family of modest economic means,” said, Renjilian-Burgy who was one of four daughters. “We were a traditional family, old-fashioned in many ways but joyous. My parents were immigrants. Although they had no formal schooling, they were the most intelligent people I knew, and instilled in us life-long values.”
Renjilian-Burgy had many jobs, including making factory notebooks like the ones she would later use in college. She studied hard and took time to listen to her parents speak in their native language, as well as Arabic. She became fond of the rhythms and tone of Arabic. “I loved the sound,” she said.
Later, she recognized the same sounds when she listened to people speaking Spanish, which led her to major in Spanish at Mount Holyoke College. “I loved the Arabic influence and the vocabulary,” she said.