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USC Institute of Armenian Studies Gala Honors Federal Judge

USC Institute of Armenian Studies Gala Honors Federal Judge

Event honoring USC alumnus Dickran Tevrizian, the first Armenian-American to serve on the U.S. federal bench, raises close to $1 million

By Eva Emerson
October 2005

The USC Institute of Armenian Studies hosted a gala banquet on Oct. 2 to honor federal judge and USC alumnus Dickran M. Tevrizian Jr. for 32 years of public service. Tevrizian was the first Armenian-American to be appointed to the U.S. federal bench.

The evening marked the second community event organized by the USC Institute of Armenian Studies, which was launched by USC College in February, and raised close to $1 million in new gifts and pledges; the institute’s endowment now totals $1.5 million.

With a broad mission to increase understanding of modern Armenia and Armenians, the institute is envisioned as a center of research and learning that will respond to the needs of the Armenian community, said Joseph Aoun, dean of USC College.

“As the nation’s first multidisciplinary academic center of its kind, the impact of the institute will extend far beyond USC,” said Aoun. “It will help the world to understand the many contributions of Armenians to society here in the United States and abroad.”

“Our vision is different from other places,” said Richard Hrair Dekmejian, director of the institute and a professor of political science in the College. “We have a truly ambitious mission, to look at everything from folkdance to music to the sciences from the Armenian perspective. I believe that we have already had an impact on the community.” 

Dean Aoun was among more than 20 speakers, including former Gov. George Deukmejian, who saluted Tevrizian as an outstanding jurist and community leader during the evening’s program. 

Providing plenty of accolades — and good-natured ribbing about his fierce loyalty to the USC football team and his matchmaking prowess — speakers praised Tevrizian’s accomplishments as well as his integrity, fairness and deep commitment to mentoring young lawyers. 

Speakers included luminaries in law and business such as Edward Roski Jr., USC trustee and CEO of Majestic Realty Co.; Ronald Tutor, USC trustee and president and CEO of Tutor-Saliba Corp., a leading construction firm; Kinko’s founder and USC alumnus Paul Orfalea; and the Hon. Armand Arabian, a former member of the state Supreme Court.

USC Trustees Stanley Gold, John F. King and Alfred Mann attended the banquet, as did former Gov. Pete Wilson, Sheriff Lee Baca, USC Athletics’ Mike Garrett, and a long list of prominent attorneys and judges. USC President Steven B. Sample sent his congratulations in a letter read by Aoun. 

Aoun called Tevrizian one of USC’s most distinguished alumni and thanked him for his early support of the institute. “Dickran was the first person to commit publicly to the institute, and was one of the first to get involved in determining the institute’s direction,” he said. Aoun also noted the support of USC trustees, quoting Stan Gold as saying, “I am here to honor Judge Tevrizian and, through him, the Armenian Community.” 

Close to 850 guests gathered at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City to celebrate Tevrizian as he assumed the new status of Senior U.S. District Judge, a position that allows him more freedom in selecting cases and will enable him to spend more time pursuing other interests.

Attendees included Tevrizian’s USC fraternity brothers, professional colleagues, distinguished public figures, religious leaders, family, friends and admirers, including more than 200 of his current and former law clerks and externs.

During the evening, Tevrizian was awarded a Medal of Honor from the Armenian Apostolic Church. A letter from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger congratulating Tevrizian was included in the program.

Decades of Service

Tevrizian began his judicial career at age 31, when then-Gov. Ronald Reagan appointed him to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1972, making him the youngest judge ever appointed to the judiciary at that time. Six years later, Gov. Edmund Brown Jr. elevated him to a post on the California State Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles. In 1982, Tevrizian returned to private law practice until 1986, when President Ronald Reagan selected him to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. 

Tevrizian graduated cum laude from USC with a B.S. in finance in 1962, before attending USC Law School. After earning his law degree, he joined and became a partner in the law firm of Kirtland and Packard. Later, he was a partner in the law firm of Mannet, Phelps, Rothenberg and Tunney and Of Counsel to the law firm of Lewis, D’Amato, Brisbois & Bisgaard. 

Awakening a Sleeping Giant

Ever since the establishment of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies, Dekmejian has received a flurry of calls about possible events and projects. It seems, he said, that the institute is an idea whose time had come. 

“We have awakened a sleeping giant,” said Dekmejian. “We’ve had call after call — one group is interested in hosting a symposium on economic development in Armenia, one’s interested in Armenian classical music and another in the music of the Armenian church.”

Southern California is home to an estimated 350,000 people of Armenian descent — the largest Armenian community outside of the Republic of Armenia itself. But, according to Dekmejian, it has been a community looking for leadership and identity. 

The College-based institute aims to help create that through the promotion of Armenian-related scholarship and activities in a wide range of fields, from dance, music and the arts to politics, religion and community affairs. Addressing concerns of the community will be a top priority. 

A key purpose of the institute in Tevrizian’s eyes is to focus on the next generation, connecting Armenian-American students with internships, scholarships, advisors and professional mentors. His hopes for the nascent institute, Tevrizian said, is to create a “home” for young Armenian-Americans at USC.

“We’ve made remarkable progress,” Aoun said. “We have succeeded in creating the institute only because of the full participation of the Armenian community. And it’s that level of commitment that will help the institute thrive in the coming years.”

At the gala celebrating the institute’s launch last February, the enthusiasm of the Armenian-American community for the institute was evident. Among the 575 guests attending was a virtual ‘Who’s Who?’ of the community, including Judge Tevrizian, USC Trustee Roski and alumnus Paul Ignatius, former Secretary of the U.S. Navy. 

In June, the institute co-hosted a well-attended symposium and lunch in conjunction with a visit by the Armenian Apostolic Church leader Karekin II. Event speakers explored the impact of globalization on the Armenian church and related themes. 

On Oct. 15, the USC Institute of Armenian Studies will host an all-day, public conference entitled “The Christian Response to Violence.” Speakers, including the visiting church leader Catholicos Aram I, will examine violence from the micro-level — in families, gangs and schools — all the way up to terrorism and genocide.

For more information about the USC Institute of Armenian Studies, please call 213-821-3943 or email: armenian@college.usc.edu