Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco will award Aso Tavitian an honorary degree during the University's 157th Commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 19, 2013.
Your own life reflects the impact of generosity, and you have gone on to exemplify in your own work the ideals of philanthropy. You never forgot the support of an anonymous benefactor who made it possible for you to attend college—an act of kindness that changed your life. You later learned that your benefactor was a former high school teacher who recognized your promise. He passed on two important lessons: that education can enable potential, and that as doors are opened for us, it is incumbent upon us to open them for others. Through your philanthropy, you have deepened our understanding of the arts. You have brought together great minds to consider how to achieve global peace and prosperity and how to preserve history through our landscapes and architecture. Most of all, you have given the gift that changed your life—the opportunity to receive an education—by creating scholarships, including one that bears your name at Tufts’ own Fletcher School. In recognition of a lifetime of contributions to our global society, Tufts awards you the degree of Doctor of Public Service, honoris causa.
Some have called ASO TAVITIAN’s story a tale straight from a Dickens novel. At age nineteen, he left communist Bulgaria and made his way to Beirut, Lebanon. Three months later, after a local high school teacher he met thought he was English, Tavitian was accepted at Haigazian College and awarded a full scholarship. He almost turned down the opportunity because he couldn’t afford the living expenses. Fate had other plans.
A donor who insisted on anonymity offered to cover his living expenses. It wasn’t until he left Beirut a year later that he learned that his benefactor was the teacher who had thought he was English.
“That obviously had a great impact on me,” says Tavitian. “My teacher was a man of very modest means, and his desire that I not be told is the ultimate in giving.”
The gift not only changed Tavitian’s life, it inspired his own lifelong philanthropy in education and the fine and performing arts.
After a year at Haigazian, he moved to the United States to attend Columbia University, where he earned an M.S. in nuclear engineering. Soon afterwards he cofounded Syncsort, which, in the late 1960s, was one of the first companies to sell standalone software, a move that launched the era of software as a commodity independent of hardware. Tavitian served as CEO of Syncsort from 1975 to 2008, and is now a member of its board of directors.
A privately held technology company operating in the field of Big Data, Syncsort produces data-protection software as well as resource-efficient data integration software. With headquarters in the United States and subsidiaries in Germany, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, Syncsort’s products are deployed in seventy countries.
Tavitian says he views success not as an end in itself, but as a means to advance causes he considers important. In memory of the teacher who financed his education, the Tavitian Foundation, of which he is president, has awarded numerous university scholarships, with a preference given to students of Armenian and Bulgarian descent. The foundation funds the Tavitian Scholarship Program at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, a six-month training program for Armenian mid-career diplomats and government officials. One Fletcher student in the program said she was moved by Tavitian’s generosity: “As Armenians, we are very proud there is such a person. Because of the education he received, he promised he would support people in the future. Our students, if someday they have a chance to support someone’s education, will do the same with
He also founded and supports the Tavitian Library at the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a collection focusing on international relations, diplomacy, world history, and the history of Armenia and the Caucasus. Tavitian’s concern for global peace and prosperity was recognized in 2010 when he was appointed to the board of trustees of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Tavitian, who lives in New York City and Stockbridge, Massachusetts, is equally active and highly regarded in the arts communities. He is on the boards of the Frick Collection and Close Encounters with Music. He is also a member of the board of governors of the New School for Social Research; a member of the board of the French American Cultural Exchange, a nonprofit that fosters French-American relations; and vice chair of the board of trustees of the Austen Riggs Center, a nonprofit psychiatric hospital in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Tufts will award Tavitian a Doctor of Public Service degree.