The United States has been greatly influenced by England. Without it, we wouldn’t have the Beatles, American Idol or good ole fish ‘n’ chips. The US government system was designed based on the English model where people had representation in the parliament. They also influenced secret meetings in the American Colonies. In doing so, England indirectly created the concept of fraternities. Now, two centuries later, the Armenian fraternity Alpha Epsilon Omega (AEO) continues the national tradition with a patriotic heart and vision.
Eighteenth century America was going through many changes. The outcome was a new country, a new world, a new culture. The same ideologies of equality and fairness were shared by college students in the oldest colleges in America, including Harvard Univerty and William and Mary College. The tradition of secrecy, protection and new ideas were not only for the Founding Fathers but for secret societies as well. One such group went by the motto “Love of learning is the guide of life.” This group was the Phi Beta Kappa – the first college fraternity in America.
Founded in 1776, the same year that America declared independence from England, Phi Beta Kappa kicked off one of the oldest American traditions. There are many types of fraternities on various campuses throughout the nation including Alpha Gamma Sigma, Delta Kappa Epsilon and Phi Lambda Chi. In 2000, more than 200 years after the creation of the American fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Omega (AEO) was born – the first Armenian fraternity.
The idea came about while the three founders, Misak Zetilyan, Antranik Satamian and Hakop Sinoryan, attended John Marshall Fundamental High School in Pasadena, Calif. “We wanted to create an after-school program for Armenian youth in order to keep them focused on education and to prevent them from joining gangs, doing drugs or dropping out of school,” said Antranik. The idea flourished as the three attended university. While there, Hakop and Antranik joined a fraternity and within the first few months they began questioning why there was no Armenian fraternity. Contrary to how the entertainment industry portrays fraternities, the organization is more than parties, girls and booze. “Fraternities bring together men who are interested in a common cause,” explained Hakop. This cause was to unite Armenians from all backgrounds putting aside superficial differences and barriers. “At first we were a bit hesitant to introduce this idea to others. We were not sure how they would perceive it,” said Misak. “But the idea began to grow rapidly, like wildfire. The first chapter of the fraternity began at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and consisted of eight members. The idea was so well received that a semester after the first chapter was formed, the second chapter was created at the UCLA campus. Soon more universities throughout the nation and Canada showed interest in forming chapters.
AEO, like any other fraternity, has a pledge process where a prospective member can demonstrate his interest and dedication to the organization. Though the pledging process is top secret, its purpose is to train the members, interview them and decide if they are the right match. There has traditionally been a 25 percent acceptance rate to the fraternity. “AEO is not for everybody and everybody is not for AEO,” explained Misak. There is a requirement for a minimum of a 2.5 GPA in order for each brother to remain in the fraternity. “We always emphasis academics and family first,” said Andre Sahakian (Pledge class 2006). Each brother has a mentor and the organization, as well as the mentor, assists each member in the circumstance in case their grades fall below the minimum levels. The chapters from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and CSUN have repeatedly received the highest cumulative grade point average in their entire university’s fraternity system. Aside from gaining brothers and instant friends, members of AEO organize events to help raise funds for the fraternity as well as for charities around the world. “We want Armenian organizations to succeed and we try to assist in that effort as much as possible,” said Misak. In March 2006, the AEO brothers founded the Armenian Education Relief Foundation. The purpose of the foundation is to support kindergartens in Armenia with the necessary supplies, especially in the outlying regions of the nation. That summer, several members of AEO traveled to the Armavir region of Armenia and personally handed teachers and school children their supplies. “We’ve replaced desks, beds, appliances, floor mats, etc.,” said Andre. The brothers ask for a list of items needed from the teachers of each kindergarten school they plan to assist. “This year we raised over $12,000 and every single cent that was donated was used for supplies. We did not use that money for expenses, lodging or travel,” explained Aren Ebrahimi (Pledge class 2009). Andre continued by adding that, “We travel to Armenia ourselves in order to ensure that these supplies go to the right people.”
“Though one of our goals is to assist Armenia, we are in this organization because of our brothers,” said Misak. “It’s true. I joined AEO because of the people and, in doing so, gained so much more,” added Hrayr Kalantarian (Pledge Class 2004).
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