The Fresno Unified School District officially changed the name of Forkner Elementary School to H. Roger Tatarian Elementary School in a September 7 ceremony. As the thermometer found a third figure late in the morning, dignitaries spoke on the podium illuminated by the full intensity of the late summer sun.
“As a student of history, this is a moment that is both impressive for me, but also time-consuming,” said Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval. “I want to thank the trustees of the Fresno Unified School Board for their courage in naming this school after an Armenian American who was a journalist, a graduate of Fresno State, a bulldog who earned a degree in political science and then went to work in journalism with a pencil in his hand.
Flanked by a banner emblazoned with the new Tatarian Hawks logo in pencil, Jiménez-Sandoval announced the establishment of a partnership between the Hawks and the Bulldogs. The logo was designed by Fresno State alumnus Scott Severance under the artistic direction of Suzanne Bertz-Rosa.
“I am truly proud that we are partnering with Tatar Elementary Schools and the Fresno State Department of Media, Communications and Journalism to give Tatar students a clear pathway and the tools to learn, what it takes to become a journalist and what is a journalist in today’s world?
Jim Boren, executive director of Fresno State’s Institute for Media and Public Trust, said track details are still being finalized.
“We want them to get them excited about journalism, turn them into multimedia journalists, and bring them to Fresno State. We want the Tatarian Hawks to be Fresno State Bulldogs.
The sun that parched the participants in the ceremony is the same star that provides energy to the fertile soil of the central valley. The life that sprouted gave promise to the crowds of Armenian immigrants fleeing oppression. But as they planted their farms and businesses and bought homes, they faced discrimination.
According to media reports, the Fresno Unified School Board began considering changing the school’s name after it was revealed in landmark legal documents that Fig Garden area developer Jessie Clayton Forkner was banning the sale. or the occupation of property to minority people, including those of Armenian origin.
Mark Arax, author and Fresno State alumnus, proposed the name change at a June board meeting. James Tatarian, Roger’s grandson, has called for his grandfather’s name to be removed from consideration of a new building, calling it “a consolation prize not befitting a man of his accomplishments and of his stature”.
“A change like this is never easy,” Arax said. “The Forkner School was named in the 1980s, so you’re talking about 40 years old. People don’t want to be part of it, but I think we did it the right way. We did the research and presented the case and ultimately the case was compelling enough for the school district to decide it’s fair, it’s fair.
The Fresno Unified School Board voted in October 2021 to change the name to honor the award-winning journalist, Fresno State alumnus, and faculty member.
“Roger Tatarian’s career as a journalist and teacher demonstrates the transformative power of a Fresno State education,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, Dean of the Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities. . “By returning to his alma mater to educate a new generation, he changed the lives of his students, and now a school in Fresno named after him will inspire countless children to pursue their dreams.”
“The Armenian community is thrilled that the Fresno Unified School District has chosen to recognize Roger Tatarian in naming a school after him,” said Professor Barlow Der Mugrdechian, Berber Coordinator of the Fresno State Armenian Studies Program. . “This recognition, with the designation of the district’s first school for an Armenian, is long overdue. It is a fitting honor for Tatarian.
Tatarian was a member of the Fresno State College of Media, Communications and Journalism for 15 years. The Roger Tatarian Journalism Fellowship, the Roger Tatarian Endowed Chair in Journalism, and the Roger Tatarian Symposium were established in his honor.
Also an alumnus, Tatarian graduated from Fresno State in 1938 with a degree in political science. He began his career at United Press International, then a global news reporting service. During World War II he served as a correspondent and continued to work for United Press International for the next 34 years.
He had a successful career as Chief Information Officer for Europe, Middle East and Africa. He served as bureau chief in London and Rome, served as editor in Washington DC, and eventually became editor.
Tatarian has received numerous awards and honors, including the Elijah Parrish Lovejoy Award, a Special Citation from Ohio University, and an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Colby College in Maine in 1980. He was made a Fellow of the Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi in 1972. and was among the first group inducted into the New York Society Hall of Fame. He was also a Pulitzer Prize-nominated juror in 1960, 1961 and 1985.
After retiring, Tatarian returned to Fresno and joined the faculty at Fresno State. During this time he consulted for newspapers and wrote a regular column for The Fresno Bee. He also wrote a collection of essays, “Day of Mourning, Day of Shame”, published by Word Dancer Press in 1996. This book was provided to attendees of the name change ceremony courtesy of the Department of Media, Communications and Journalism of Fresno State and The Fresno. Bee. Tatarian died in 1995 at the age of 78.