John Jabagchourian / Editor
Walking across campus, students young and old shout out his first name with exuberance. It seemed everyone knew him, not because he is a public figure in Fresno but because he has somehow touched each person somewhere in life. He says hello, asks them how they’ve been. They talk about the times they met, and he congratulates them on their efforts in school.
After sitting down and talking to Fresno City Council President, Tom Boyajian, I realized he has done just about every type of job and has been involved in so many activities that it was no coincidence that these students knew him and were happy to see him.
Boyajian is a native Fresnan who went to Heaton elementary, graduated from Fresno high and got his degree in political science at Fresno State. Afterwards he went to Golden Gate Law School in San Francisco and returned back to Fresno after he got his law degree.
But Boyajian’s story begins like all other Armenian stories, back to the Genocide. Both of his parents were from the Ottoman Empire and were able to escape the fate that destroyed 2 million other Armenians. Boyajian showed a family picture of his parents, grandparents and aunts pointing out a six-year old little girl who managed to save his mother from drowning in a river at the hands of the Turks.
Family that had been living in Massachusetts checked survivor lists, found the Boyajians’ among the survivors and brought them to America. After working a multitude of jobs, the Boyajians’ had two sons and moved to Fresno to the lure of agriculture and to be with more family.
Tom Boyajian was born in Fresno. As he grew up in the same district that he represents today in the City Council, Boyajian was aware of the prejudice against the Armenians.
“There was prejudice in Fresno,” Boyajian said. “My parents could not buy property due to the restrictive covenants. They had a grocery store on Blackstone and Olive in which they had to buy the land through friends.” But now and at that time, Boyajian said about the Armenians, “We were above all that, and the Armenians were able to achieve a lot of things.”
After graduating from Fresno State, Boyajian went to San Francisco to study law in the sixties. However, his plans were stalled when he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. “I didn’t believe in war, but I believed in the U.S. government,” Boyajian said. After serving in the U.S. Army, he returned to law school in San Francisco. He commented that he learned so much by being independent in San Francisco. Boyajian worked as a bartender, worked in gift shops, was a private detective and worked a number of other jobs while in school.
“All those jobs give you a perspective on all these people, and I learned about a lot of people,” Boyajian said. Boyajian’s variety of jobs and learned understanding of people demonstrated why different people came up to and were happy to see him during his visit to Fresno State. He also holds an uncanny respect for students. He was impressed with the activities the students sponsor like the Armenian Genocide commemoration, and he tells all students that they had made the right choice by coming to school for higher learning.
In interviewing Boyajian, he speaks as though he is a young student himself and relates to students’ situations. He particularly gives this bit of advice to students, “Keep your life with a lot of different things going on, that’s what makes life interesting. In life, do the things you never do.” Once he graduated law school, Boyajian was enjoying life in San Francisco, but came back to Fresno to take care of his mother who had terminal cancer. The importance of family and the responsibility of supporting one another is what Boyajian said is apart of being Armenian.
Throughout the interview, Boyajian always referred to family members, his parents, brothers and cousins. He really emphasizes the importance of a strong family connection. Boyajian then opened a law practice in Fresno, which he continues today. Aside from that though, Boyajian practiced what he preached and also taught courses at Fresno City College and opened the Zapp’s Park night club in the Tower district. He then gave up the teaching and sold the nightclub to run for City Council.
Boyajian said, “I thought I could do better,” as his reason for running. “We needed somebody from the district who liked and wanted to do something for the district.” “I thought I was the best person to represent the district, I went to school and opened a business in the district.” “I felt I could make a difference,” Boyajian said.
Boyajian worked hard to spread his message to his community. He rigorously walked the precincts and did all he could to get people to believe in him. And they did. Without any support from local organizations and without any endorsements, Boyajian worked harder and won the general election. Boyajian enjoys getting things done and helping people on the City Council. However, he finds it disappointing when the bureaucracy makes it harder to get things done.
“I have so many things I want to get done and the bureaucracy just delays things,” Boyajian said. “The attitude around city hall is that it is more prevalent to say no than to say yes and get things done.” This year Boyajian became the City Council President in charge of keeping things in order and trying to keep egos in check. He is also looking to bring more jobs to Fresno so that students graduating from Fresno State have the option to find a job here. Spending time in San Francisco also gave him the background to know that Fresno has too much urban sprawl. He would like to develop the inner city rather than the outskirts.
Tom Boyajian has been a positive influence for students and Armenians. He finds that being Armenian has given him the traits to be successful in life. “It’s important to give back to the school I went to and give back to Armenian kids, maybe encourage or spark something in them,” Boyajian said. And by visiting the Fresno State campus, talking to students and speaking at the April 24 commemoration, Boyajian did just that by saying of his Armenianness, “If you cut me, I will bleed pride.”
I thank Tom Boyajian for taking the time to do this interview and appreciate the advice he gave me and his openness to speak the truth. For all that it’s worth, it would be an honor for the Hye Sharzhoom to be the first to endorse Tom Boyajian in his future efforts to help the community, not because he is Armenian (although it doesn’t hurt) but because of his genuine dedication to helping others throughout his life.