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Educator Ani Shabazian is a Doer of Good and Gratefulness

Ani’s name comes from the ancient Armenian capital city, Ani, the “city of 1,001 churches.”  While the city no longer exists, those visiting Armenia and eastern Turkey today can still see some of the ancient ruins.   Ani spoke lovingly of her parents, who met in Iran before moving to the United States.  Being an only child, she got to spend a lot of time with them both and though strict in parenting, they were a solid support system for her.
Her mother who was educated and extremely driven, chose to trade in one career, serving as a Liaison at the Department of State, for another, being an at home mother.  And, as such, the quality time she gave to her daughter resulted in what she often refers to as the best investment of her life and a special relationship still exists between them.  Ani points out, “If I could be half as good as her, I would consider myself a resounding success.”  This strong female role model gives insight into the type of leadership Ani displays today.
IMG_9513I was not at all surprised to hear Ani say as a child she was a very talkative and social.  Ani was very grateful that her two first cousins lived less than a block away and so the bulk of her childhood was spent either at their house or at hers.  Thanks to them she was forced to learn how to negotiate and share time, space, and attention with others her own age.  She, however, laughed  as she told me that despite this, as an only child, she wasn’t (and still isn’t) good at sharing.

“Even to this day, I struggle with this! I’m generous, but just not good at sharing.  For example, if you want to share an ice tea, I would say no thank you, I will happily buy you a gallon but you can’t share mine.  Imagine the germs!”

Ani’s family maintained their Armenian roots, speaking only Armenian in the home.  So, when it came time for Ani to attend kindergarten she said, “I didn’t speak a word of English.”  This deficit would cause a major impact in Ani’s life, one that would follow her to this day and influence the kind of leader and woman she would become.  I attempted to put myself in her shoes: a four-year old child, who just hugged her mom goodbye and entered a strange colorful room, with even stranger voices.  Voices that she did not understand.  A teacher that faced her and demanded she was never to speak Armenian in her classroom, the only language she knew, as that would prevent her from learning the language she needed to know.
Ani reflected on the experience.  “The transition to ‘the real world’ was so difficult.  In Kindergarten I remember feeling as if I was never understood, that there were differences, and that I was the “other.  That was when I began to silence my Armenian self in a school setting, and learned how to voice a more American one.  It was a conflict at a young age.  I was increasingly growing conscious of two different yet co-existing worlds: home vs. school.”

Ani with her father and mother and dissertation chair
Ani with her father, mother and dissertation chair

However, in 6th grade, after her first trip to Armenia Ani realized that she might have too strongly silenced her Armenian voice, and while she was fluent in her native tongue she became aware of the fact that she could not read or write in it.
In September, two weeks before she was supposed to begin her school, she came up with a plan that she proposed to her parents.  She requested to commute from Westchester to the closest Armenian school she could find, Holy Martyrs Ferrahian Armenian School, which was 60 miles away in the San Fernando Valley.
With her father’s unconditional support, her mom at first somewhat reluctantly agreed to do the 60 minute each-way daily commute. This self-awareness was advanced for this pre-teen.  Changing schools in middle and high school brought different challenges beyond language or cultural differences.  It is here that she met her lifelong friend, Ramela.  “She kept me grounded and focused.  I know now all you need is that one solid friendship to keep you healthy.”
Despite having a challenging Kindergarten experience and starting her education off on the wrong foot, Ani still found herself wanting to be a teacher.  In hindsight, she realizes now it was to ensure other children would not face the challenges she did.  Every time Ani spoke about her philosophy of early childhood development and education, her face would light up with such conviction and purpose.
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About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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