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An Armenian Tale: How one teacher's paycheck began a Fletcher foundation

The Inspiration

His story, it's been said, is like one out of Dickens. Aso Tavitian, a penniless 19-year-old émigré of Armenian descent, had received a scholarship to college in Beirut, but had resigned himself to turning down the opportunity because he couldn't afford living expenses.

Out of the blue, just before school was to begin, the young man was notified funds suddenly had become available to cover his costs. It wasn't until a few years later that he learned, from a file left uncovered on an administrator's desk, that one of his teachers had been paying his expenses, with instructions that the donation should remain anonymous. "That obviously had a great impact on me," Tavitian says. "My teacher was a man of very modest means, and his desire that I not be told was the ultimate in giving."

The Gift

Tavitian went on to become very successful in business, and through the charitable works of his Tavitian Foundation, the Armenian-American philanthropist says, he is paying his former teacher back. Over the past 10 years more than 150 young Armenian diplomats and government officials have received support from the foundation for advanced training at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Aso Tavitian and Joyce Barsam, J62, AG89, a Fletcher overseer, created what is now called the Tavitian Scholarship Program with the aim of training professionals from the fledgling republic in Western-style leadership.

The Impact

“With 11 different classes in the short course, it’s quite comprehensive—and quite demanding,” says Anahit Petrosyan, who studied at Fletcher this past year under the six-month program. Petrosyan plans a public-sector career in finance and development after having worked in the past for the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance in Armenia and for the aid agency the Millennium Challenge Corp. She said she valued her time spent in Fletcher’s international learning community. “The Fletcher experience is communicated to people from different nations regardless of religion or the color of their skin,” she says. “People are very similar: they have the same problems, the same fears, the same goals. Fletcher makes the world quite small.” She was moved by Mr. Tavitian’s generosity in making this opportunity possible. “As Armenians we are very proud there is such a person,” she says. “Because of the education he received, he promised he would support people in the future. Our students, if someday they have a chance to support someone’s education, will do it with great pleasure. If I can, I will do it with great pleasure.”