Education is, by far, my priority. It’s the single, greatest enabler for any person in the Diaspora, but also in Armenia. The greatest gift we can give the next generation is allowing them to learn and flourish.
Written for AGBU Impact Magazine 2022 by Carolina Gazal. Photos by Rachel Luna.
Seline Karakaya, nee Okutan-Varjabedian, arrived in Manhattan in the summer of 1999 with a scholarship to the AGBU Summer Internship Program (now referred to as the Global Leadership Program, GLP). With a placement at Cerberus’ Pequod Investment Group, Seline found herself in the heart of the financial capital of the world—a far cry from her native Istanbul, and the Canoga Park section of Los Angeles in which she was raised and graduated from the AGBU Marie Manoogian and Demirdjian High School and later completed a business degree from the University of Southern California.
She describes the GLP experience fondly and with immense appreciation for the financial assistance she received from AGBU to spend the summer in New York. She recalls it as the single most impactful experience she’s had within her Armenian world and credits the support from AGBU as the biggest spark in igniting her career path, and eventually, the course of her life.
Leaving New York City with unparalleled consulting experience, a renewed sense of “Armenianness,” and an immeasurable sense of gratitude for her community, Karakaya made a mental note that giving back to this very program would be in her future.
Twenty-two years later, Karakaya—now managing director at Excelerate Global—established a generous endowment for AGBU Scholarships, giving young Armenians a similar opportunity that she was given to jumpstart their studies and career.
Paying it forward, she believes, is a “no-brainer,” especially when it comes to supporting young people. As a first-generation Armenian-American, the importance of education was instilled in her from an early age. Without AGBU’s support of her schooling, Karakaya feels she wouldn’t be where she is today. “Education is, by far, my priority. It’s the single, greatest enabler for any person in the Diaspora, but also in Armenia. The greatest gift we can give the next generation is allowing them to learn and flourish.”
Her impact doesn’t stop there. Karakaya set up a self-sustaining endowment to offer assistance to a handful of students every year, indefinitely. But to her, it seems like the least she can do. “If we all did something in a very small way, it could have a big impact.”
In addition to her endowment in support of AGBU Scholarships, Karakaya also gives to the AGBU Senior Dining Centers, a program in Armenia near and dear to her heart. Growing up with and caring for grandparents at home, Karakaya has applied her giving back philosophy to support the elderly in the homeland, all while balancing her own family responsibilities and a hectic work-life schedule.
This article was featured in the 2022 release of AGBU Impact Magazine. For more information on the AGBU Scholarships, click here.