Houry Boyamian

End of Era as St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School Principal Boyamian Is Set to Retire


WATERTOWN — Houry Boyamian, principal of St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School (SSAES) for the past 35 years, is looking forward to a well-deserved retirement. For Boyamian, the position has not been so much a job but a calling, and Armenian schools are vital for the diaspora.

Boyamian noted, “If we want the diaspora, the Armenian nation, to continue, if we want our language and culture to perpetuate, then we need Armenian schools. I am a firm believer in Armenian education. Those regions that have Armenian schools, they can keep their identity longer thanks to Armenian schools.”

(Full disclosure: My daughter, Tenny A. Gregorian, is an alumna of the school.)

Boyamian is set to officially retire in July, when Dr. Garine Palandjian will take over.

“After that, if she will need my help, I am ready,” Boyamian said in a recent interview.

Principal Houry Boyamian with the students and staff for the 2010-2011 school year.

She noted that she is happy with the choice of Palandjian and added that she was involved in part of the interviews. “My main objective was to find someone who will continue the job. I wanted to have peace of mind and as I said, I am not going far. The school will always be in my heart and I am ready to help the school anyway I can,” she added.

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Since its founding in 1984, the school has had a large footprint in the Greater Boston area; altogether, about 1,000 students have attended the school and 368 have graduated.

This year 140 students are enrolled, with the number year to year fluctuating between 140 and 180.

The school belongs to St. Stephen’s Armenian Church and the church is a part of the Prelacy of the Armenian Church of America. Students, however, come from many different segments of the community.

“We have been very welcoming to all Armenians from all churches, all different organizations and I want everybody to feel that St. Stephen’s is their own school,” Boyamian said. “We want to be the school for everyone. We try to give the best education possible with the same standard as all the other prestigious schools around us, with a minimal price,” she said.

Principal Houry Boyamian at the opening of the SSAES Noubar Afeyan Preschool Addition, with Noubar and Anna Afeyan in the back, with other committee members.

Currently, the tuition is around $10,000, less than a quarter of that of other private schools.

Covid impacted the school indirectly, Boyamian said. When the school was initially remote only, some parents, Boyamian said, decided to take their children out, including those where both parents needed to work. “We changed immediately, to in-person five days a week,” she said.

Founding SSAES

The school, with grades pre-K through 5, is currently the only Armenian day school in New England. Its pre-school division is accredited by the state’s Department of Early Education and Care, while the K-5 part of the school has been accredited by the Association of Independent Schools in New England (AISNE), which requires an exhaustive set of tests and reviews.

“I knew that in order for the school to be successful, we needed to keep the academic standards high. Otherwise, the alternatives, the choices are too many and too good. We are surrounded by the best private and public schools in the nation. And our parents pay for their children’s education when they send their kids to St. Stephen’s, when they can send them to a free public school,” Boyamian explained.

She worked hard for the accreditation of the school by AISNE, with the third cycle happening in October.

She said that in addition to the high standards, the school strives to instill in students the importance of their heritage. “We made sure that our alumni understand that when they graduate, they have a responsibility because of their Armenian education, to serve their community, or to serve in Armenia. We have a good number of alumni students now who have moved to Armenia and are working there. Even here, my biggest joy is to see our alumni serving in different organizations and taking leadership roles in our area,” she said.

Alumni from the school have attended some of the best universities in the country, including Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Tufts.

Boyamian said she hopes one day there will be a middle school. “The greater Boston area deserves an Armenian middle school,” she said. “We need to give that opportunity to students who want it.”

Principal Houry Boyamian with the school’s teachers at the school’s 35th anniversary gala

Importance of Armenian Schools

The Beirut-born Boyamian is an apostle for Armenian schools. She attended the Armenian Lyceum (Hay Djemaran) whose official name is the Nshan Palanjian Djemaran, where her father, Karnig Panian, was the vice principal.

“My father was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide — the only survivor of his family,” she said. While he did not speak much about his horrifying experiences with his family, he kept a diary and wrote his memoirs, Goodbye, Antoura: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, published in Armenian in 1992 and in English in 2015.

“This is how we found out what he went through,” she said.

“My father was looking forward. He was optimistic by nature. His idea was we have lost so much and now we can’t lose our language, culture and identity. That’s what he worked on his whole life,” she recalled.

She studied at the French University of Beirut and received her pharmacy degree. In 1986 she and her husband, Avedis, and their three children left for the United States. “It was no longer possible for us to stay there,” she said.

Once in the US, Boyamian noted she stayed home one year to study for her pharmacy state board exam, after which she passed her test and started working as a pharmacist.

However, only a short while later, the members of the nascent SSAES board came to her, asking her to become the principal.

“The reason they came to me was some of them knew my father and they knew I was a graduate of the Djemaran and I could do the job. I didn’t think twice. I thought there are a lot of pharmacists in the area, but that if you can’t find a principal, I will take the position,” she said. “I went back to college to receive my master’s in education and also a certificate of directorship for early education.”

Her father is her idol, she explained.

“My father is my role model, my inspiration, my hero. It is unbelievable what he went through and how he worked to get a good education and also to serve his nation. He was not only the principal of the school but also the head of the Armenian Education Committee of the Prelacy in Lebanon. He dedicated all his life to the Armenian nation. He was only five years old when the Genocide happened, so whatever he did, he did by himself. I appreciate more and more what he did,” she said with obvious emotion.

She added, “For the past 35 years, there hasn’t been a day when I’ve said I don’t want to go to school today. Never. I know what I am doing is important and did everything so this school flourishes and advances.”

“We need to continue offering a very good education to our students. Once we do that, the other challenges will not affect the school that much. There are challenges, of course,” she said.

When the school was founded, Armenians around the world could scarcely dream to hope about an independent Armenia, much less an independent Karabakh.

For the past two decades, the school has organized an annual trip to Armenian and Karabakh (Artsakh) for graduating fifth graders and their parents.

“Those who went to Armenia returned as if they were baptized as Armenians. Whatever they had learned at the school, they went and saw with their own eyes. Armenia became a reality for them,” she said.

Last year, the school hosted two trips, one in May and one in July, with the latter for the class of 2021, which had not gone to Armenia as usual in May because of the 2020 war waged by Azerbaijan, resulting in the loss of most of Karabakh, including the historic city of Shushi.

With students at a Kindergarten graduation ceremony

No firm decision has been made for the trip this year, she added.

“We are deeply, deeply saddened with this situation, but Armenia has gone through difficult times and Armenians are super survivors and hopefully, they will be able to come to a good solution. I am hopeful. I don’t give up,” she said.

“I am happy that I persevered and from day one, when I took the position, I said to myself, whatever happens, I will not give up. I will continue, because the mission is an important one,” she said.

She had some advice for her successor. “From my experience, the most important requirements are the following: commitment, patience, perseverance, and of course, academic background, believing in the mission of the school and a lot of flexibly to work with different stakeholders, different groups, patiently, respectfully. Also, the new person should have the drive to bring the school to the next level,” Boyamian said.

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