This story is part of our #FandMInspires series. #FandMInspires is our tag for uplifting stories that show Diplomats of all ages improving themselves, encouraging others and affirming ideals that strengthen society.
It was just a normal Tuesday for Franklin & Marshall College graduate Hayk Gyokchyan ’13.
The 6-foot, 8-inch hoops star completed an evening workout with his professional basketball team, Al Riyadi, in Beirut, Lebanon, Aug. 4. He noticed smoke billowing from the capital city’s cargo port on his drive home.
Minutes later, one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions in history rocked the country.
“I drove by five minutes before it happened,” Gyokchyan said. “I got home, opened the door, and one of the doors blew down. Literally, one of the doors blew down.”
The blast, reportedly caused by improperly stored ammonium nitrate, rattled buildings as far as the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 100 miles away.
It also rattled the way of life for Lebanese citizens. Gyokchyan and his teammates quickly rose to the occasion.
“We go to the people that need it”
Al Riyadi sponsored disaster relief efforts, cleaning up debris and broken glass. They distributed hundreds of boxes containing canned food, bread and water.
“As a sports club, we go to the streets. We go to the people that need it,” said Gyokchyan, an Armenian native who spent most of his childhood in Lebanon before attending high school in the United States.
Lebanese Basketball League athletes – Gyokchyan among them – took to social media to pressure government officials to render better aid to Beirut’s citizens.
It’s the type of fan connection you don’t often find in other leagues – and it’s one of many reasons Gyokchyan is staying in Lebanon, despite the country’s current economic crisis.
“People here are passionate about basketball. The fans here really engage with the players,” Gyokchyan said.
His widely followed social media accounts and personal blog spin a unique perspective on Lebanon’s highly partisan world of sports. Passionate fan bases often align with the country’s 18 officially recognized religious sects and affiliated political parties.
Fluent in Arabic, Armenian, and English, Gyokchyan easily connects with a wide base.
From Lebanon to Lancaster
What drew the globe-trotting Gyokchyan to Lancaster in 2009?
“I was looking for the perfect combination of basketball and academics,” said Gyokchyan, who majored in business, organizations and society with a minor in mathematics.
In Gyokchyan’s time at F&M, the Diplomats won four regular season titles, three conference titles, appeared in three NCAA Tournaments and made it to the Elite Eight twice.
“It was honestly the best four years of my life. The friends that I made at F&M, they’re still my best friends,” Gyokchyan said.
“The business major at F&M was so wide and covered a lot of areas. I've always felt prepared in many different aspects,” he said.
That range has served him well, from navigating graduate school to collaborating with brands.
With the basketball season on hiatus due to COVID-19, Gyokchyan has directed his focus toward completing a master of science degree in sports management and leadership through the Modern University for Business and Science in Beirut and Cardiff Metropolitan University in London.
The degree puts him one step closer to his dream of opening a sports facility or academy – a dream he thinks could help steer Lebanon out of economic crisis.
“Lebanon is just a beautiful country, “ Gyokchyan said. “Its mountains flow straight down to the Mediterranean Sea. You can go to the city, then take a 45-minute drive to the beach. The people are amazing. Anything you want, you can have it here.”
“I was looking for the perfect combination of basketball and academics...
The business major at F&M was so wide and covered a lot of areas. I've always felt prepared in many different aspects."