Columbia University Alumni of the Year

Dr. Kalayjian’s acceptance speech
Columbia University, Teachers College Distinguished Alumni Award
Oct 15, 2007

I accept this award with gratitude and a sense of responsibility to maintain the high standards of excellence in service, education, and leadership that Teachers College, Columbia University stands for. I express gratitude to my family, especially to my Mother who has supported me spiritually in my educational pursuit.

I dedicate this award to all those survivors with whom I have worked in both Natural and human-made disasters around the world. Their experiences helped advance the science and art of caring and helped refine the science of disaster recovery, management, and rehabilitation.

As a sardonic Chinese saying sates: May you live in interesting times: Indeed ladies and gentlemen, today we are amidst most challenging and interesting times: Being involved at the UN since 1990, I am proud to share many improvements in human rights for the people in many countries. Unfortunately I am sad to ALSO share many incidents of hatred, greed, darkness, and intolerance also flourishing. Physical and emotional walls of hatred and exclusion are being raised under the disguise of democracy, security, safety, even in the name of peace. I challenge you to be vigilant, conscious, in the moment, and NOT to react to negativity with hatred and anger. Instead, with love and forgiveness I challenge you to choose peace, peace within and without, and choose the light. As Martin Luther King Jr. said so poignantly, “Only with light we can overcome darkness.” Such as the light that TC is dedicated to provide us all.

What survivors taught me that the honeymoon phase after each disaster, when people come together to help one another, celebrate their humanness, reinforce their love and compassion to one another and to the universe, SHOULD NOT be ONLY a PHASE, but a life style.

As an Armenian-American, this is a very happy time for me when the Genocide resolution has passed in the House for the first time 92 years after the crimes were committed. As the CBS news announced and I quote:

 

“1.5 million Armenians were murdered, 500,000 additional Armenians were forcibly removed from their homeland – this 106 resolution is a victory for human rights.” I like to also add that there were over a million Greeks and Assyrians killed at the same time.

 

CBS news continued: Opponents ask “why now?” and “this is not the right time.” They warn of dire actions Turkey will take against the United States. Yet, it is important that this Committee doesn’t lose sight between what is right and wrong – and speak out about the wrongs in the world. While the Armenian Genocide was the first of the 20th century, the blind eye cast to the slaughter of Armenians was a point used by Hitler who asked his joint chiefs-of-staff, “Who…speaks today of the [their] annihilation?” Attempting to excuse his actions of slaughtering over six-million Jews.

We are in crisis: the hatred and racist act placed on Professor Constantine’s office is the backlash that I was referring to earlier. What is the real solution? According to my mentor Viktor Frankl, the solution is to move our spiritual dimension beyond self-actualization into self-transcendence. I urge you to reach beyond self and dedicate yourself to a unique mission of life by serving others, serving a healthy cause, and a person to love. We are not only responsible to ourselves, but for every human being everywhere and at all times. We have moved beyond IQ to EQ, and let us move now to SQ, spiritual intelligence that is universal, such as the universal declaration of human rights, and it should be taught in every school around the globe starting in kindergarten.

Only then we will begin to fill and heal the spiritual holes in our souls and thereby as the Gaia Hypothesis promises it will also fill and heal the hole in our ozone layer. At this important juncture, I challenge all of us to muster the collective will to empower ourselves upward, to a higher spiritual plane and to build social institutions that may inculcate spiritual intelligence in the next generations.

"If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."

-Martin Luther King