This momentous event brought together many supporters of the college, its students, teachers and founders on the (new, purpose built campus) new college’s campus in Dilijan, Armenia. More than 700 guests gathered to celebrate the opening, including the President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan, the President of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Bako Sahakyan, the President of Serbia Tomislav Nikolic, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, Patriarch of Antioch and All East Ignatius Aphrem II and, of course, the Founders and the Founding Patrons of the college.
The feeling of excitement about the opening of the first UWC not only in the region but in the post-Soviet space as a whole pervaded the atmosphere throughout the day as the local and international guests met the 96 students and 25 teachers who come from more than 50 countries around the world. For those who know the UWC well, it is no secret that internationalism is one of the founding principles of the movement and the day felt to be a celebration of the coming together of people of different ages from a multitude of diverse backgrounds who were all gathered in Dilijan because they believe in the importance of education as a force that can make a positive impact in the world.
The official ceremony of the opening included the unveiling of the humanitarian gallery, presidential awards, and speeches made by the Founders, the Head of College, the attending presidents and others, which gave historical significance to the opening of the 14th UWC college in Armenia. The first college opened 52 years ago in Wales, its principle aim being to bring together young people from opposite sides of the Cold War conflict to live and to learn together.
In his opening address, Ruben Vardanyan, the co-founder of the college, explained why this project is particularly important for him, as a person who grew up in the Soviet Union, and how its goal was achieved: “As a product of the Soviet time and the Soviet space, I think we all need to transform ourselves. In the Soviet system there were three overarching principles: don’t believe, don’t be afraid and don’t ever ask for anything. This, however, does not hold true: you have to believe that things are possible, you have to believe in your dream and you have to believe that you can achieve it with the help of others,” said Vardanyan. “And the celebration today only became possible because we believed, we were not afraid and we asked you for help. So I want to say thank you to all of you.”
More than 50 years later some of the founding and key figures of the IB and UWC, such as Colin Jenkins, former head of Atlantic College, Lawrence Nodder, the new head of Robert Bosch College and formerly the head of the UWC in Swaziland, Shelby Davis, the philanthropist responsible for funding the further education of thousands of UWC graduates at US universities, and Sir John Daniel, Head of the IB, stood on the grounds of UWC Dilijan College watching its first students conduct the opining ceremony, interview guests about the books they brought to the college as their entrance ticket and talking to their guests about their experiences during the first two months of their studies. Many of them must have been imagining what the future holds for these students, for the UWC and the IB as they continue to grow and develop as institutions with the aspiration to foster “peace and a sustainable future” through education. As John Puddefoot, the Head of UWC Dilijan summed it up in his speech, the college, as its two parent institutions the UWC and the IB, is aiming to establish itself as world-leader in education giving its students life-changing opportunities: “Located at the junction of Europe and Asia, UWC Dilijan College aims to grant students from various countries new life-changing possibilities. The curricular and extracurricular activities developed by our team are sure to establish UWC Dilijan as a world-leader in education and give students an opportunity to enter the best universities worldwide. Now the academic staff includes 25 teachers from 12 countries many of whom have notable experience of teaching at other UWC colleges.”