Head's Blog

A time like no other

Our Class of 2021 graduated last Saturday. As we prepared the ceremony we decided to reflect graphically the ups and downs of our students:

Class of 2021 Graduation Logo

The first big dip symbolizes the moment, back in March 2020, when the College decided to ask the then DP1 students to leave the campus and head home. There was so much we did not know then about how the pandemic would evolve, that we took this measure in order to reduce the density of students in our residences to protect our Class of 2020 as they approached the end of their secondary education. A difficult decision that was followed by a complex logistical operation to ensure that as many students as possible could reach their families safely. Ahead of that, we organized a graduation ceremony for our Class of 2020 so that they could celebrate this rite of passage with their friends before they left. Logically there was something not completely right with graduating before you actually complete the stage, but emotionally it was certainly the right thing to do.

This was followed later on by the decision to fully evacuate our community once we realized that the pandemic was taking a huge toll in our host country. A second "Operation Exodus" took place, in this case further complicated as airlines started to shut down their connections to and from Armenia.

The subsequent ups-and-downs reflect the struggles of our students going back home earlier than planned, studying remotely, in some cases facing strict lockdowns in difficult circumstances, and also the struggles of the group of students who stayed on campus as they could not go back home and continued to be supported by the College.

The beginning of the 2020/2021 school year was framed by huge uncertainty. Armenia as a country was closed, with only Armenians and residents allowed back into the country. Thanks to the cooperation of the Foreign Affairs Ministry we ensured that both our returning staff and students and also our new students were allowed back, and we started the year with the same number of students as the year before, an scenario that we had considered most unlikely when planning. You can understand why the graph then shot up!

As we completed the last of our quarantine bubbles, we organized a day out for our staff with a trip to Haghartsin Monastery and a traditional Armenian barbeque in the surrounding forests. What was supposed to be a day of celebration and joy quickly became a sad day as the news of the armed conflict in Artsakh reached us. This was not a distant issue, it affected our community quickly as a member of our staff was recalled by the Army and had to bid farewell to his family then and there.

This is the reason for the big drop after the previous high. Even more uncertainty, concerns about the safety of our community and our extended community (as our Armenian staff and students had relatives and friends directly affected by the escalating war). But even in such a low moment the College community found strength to not only continue with our learning programme, but also to help, in whichever way we could, those affected by the war.

As you can imagine, the end of the conflict came with mixed feelings. It was, undoubtedly, painful for Armenia and our community and much suffering ensued. At the same time, as always life goes on and the suffering had to be channeled by focusing on caring for our community and continue with our learning programme. It was time for our Class of 2021 to complete academic work, university applications, to think about their future beyond our community. Soon it was time to go home for some, to stay on campus for those who could not travel safely, and very quickly the campus was back full of life... and a couple of undetected cases of COVID-19 started two different transmission chains that had to be tackled immediately. The transmission was contained and we could restart face-to-face lessons and activities with a big sigh of relief.

By then we had been notified by the IB that our students were on track to complete their examinations, so it was time to go full speed ahead with academics in preparation, and very quickly May was upon us, we conducted the exams without any incident, and the Class of 2021 was attending the rehearsal for their own graduation ceremony. Quite a journey! And no better way to celebrate it than with a moving ceremony. If you have not had a chance to watch it, I encourage to do so here.