Gayane Matevosyan, Division 2, 12th grade

Throughout my life, it seems as though I’ve been asked one question more frequently than any other: “Where are you from?” People I’ve met have tried to piece together the puzzle on their own, guessing that my exotic cultural roots lie in Italy or Greece. When I say that I’m from Armenia, they almost immediately ask if I’ve ever been there. “I was born in the capital city and have gone back to visit many times,” I reply with a smile, happy once again for the opportunity to tell one more person of my beloved small yet sacred country. But even after countless conversations about Armenian culture, traditions, and values, I’ve never told anyone that my last summer trip to the mountainous terrain was by far my favorite. In fact, it was the most extraordinary two months of my entire life.

For five of the eight weeks I was there, living in my grandmother’s house without my parents, I participated in a program called “Ari Tun” (“Come Home”). The first three weeks consisted of constant studying; I took an intensive language course at Yerevan State University where I learned to read and write in the unique Armenian alphabet. My classmates were all of Armenian descent, a first for me since I immigrated to the United States at the age of four, and many of them spoke the same languages I did: Armenian, English, Russian, Spanish. I’d experienced half a decade of magnet school education in the US, but this was a different kind of intellectually stimulating experience. Learning to write and recognize print in my favorite language gave it a whole new depth and dimension; the curves and summits of the letters flowed from the tip of my pen as if affected by the excitement in the palm of my hand. It was almost as rewarding as cooking Armenian dishes with my grandmother.

The last two weeks were occupied by exciting expeditions to various historically and culturally significant Armenian sites, one of which was the Armenian Genocide Memorial Monument built in honor of the approximately 1.5 million lives lost in a massacre that several countries around the world fail to recognize even today, over 100 years later. As I stepped inside the beautiful architecture and walked around the stele with flames in its center and flowers all around, I thought of the power of justice and those who are willing to fight for it. This monument which represents the enduring struggle of an entire nation’s people who attempt to recover from a tragedy that is not even universally classified as a genocide reminded me of why I want to become an attorney. It reminded me why I’m so passionate about the law and its capability to be used as a tool for achieving fair resolutions in situations plagued by conflict. That same passion and ambition motivated me to lead my high school’s Mock Trial team to the county championship that winter, a stage of competition the team had never reached before in all its history. This year, as team captain, I plan to lead my school to the state championship, but even such a tremendous feat would only be the beginning of my path to becoming a lawyer and making a significant difference in the lives of many people. 

I believe that spreading justice, an important ultimate goal of mine, requires being secure with my own identity and never forgetting what I care about. A silver wristwatch with a blue band lies at the top of my bookshelf, a souvenir from an amazing trip to my first home. It marks the time in Roman numerals that I didn’t adjust after my arrival back to the States at the end of the summer. The memories of my heritage, like the time in my silver watch, will forever remind me of where I’m from and who I aspire to be. 
Shared publicly