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Stories From Armenia

The First Day of School in Armenia

Sam Sullivan

I’m standing at the second floor window, directly across from my classroom, watching a parade of bright white collars and shiny black shoes burst through the school gate. The youngest students are first. They’ve been up for hours, roused early by their parents to wash, groom, and double check the neat creases on their black pants and skirts. The girls wear colorful bows in their hair; the boys, new tie clips. They run from their parents, chasing each other around the yard, returning only to dig through their mother’s purses, find their fresh notebooks, and show them off to their friends. 

The young teenagers follow. Some are with their parents and grandparents, others have outgrown the tradition. They wear white and black like the others, but congregate by grade and gender at the edges of the yard, or just beyond it.

I go down to help set up chairs with the upper classmen and other teachers. Narine, my counterpart, passes out bread and salt, a traditional Armenian gesture of hospitality, to the parents who take their seats. Slowly, their children join them and the rest of the students find open places. 

It’s a warm day in early September. Most of the kids in my village have been working in the fields all summer. There are few breaks or vacations, and little time for rest. They work hard, side by side with their families, making sure that there will be food on the table and wood in the stove come winter. This is the life they were born into. The life they know, where they thrive. 

Norik, the director, starts his opening address on the front steps of the school. He is a humble, sober man who has held his position for the past twenty-three years. He is flanked by two rows of teachers, each smiling and waving or pointing at their favorite students. The younger kids and teenagers fidget in their seats and pull on their starched clothes. Most of the parents don’t correct them. They are staring up at Norik, captured by his words on the power of education and the opportunities it allows. He speaks of Universities, better networks for their community, and the chance to make their school and village a better place. He calls the highest performing students of the previous year to join him on the steps, above their community. As he calls each of their names the community applauds and whistles. Their parents beam.

The first day of school is celebrated across Armenia every September 1st. Parents dress their children in their best clothes and walk them to school, guiding them to pursue their passions through education. It is this responsibility that sobers Norik and excites the other teachers. It is why this day is marked by salt and bread, red, blue, and orange balloons, and a sense of greater things to come. Education is not a way out, but a way forward. Forward, into the world, to learn and bring what they find back, so they may pass it along to the next generation of students.