School community rallies around Chamlian student

It has been nearly one year since 10-year-old Grace Kesablak was diagnosed with cancer, and to honor her fight against the disease, hundreds of Glendale residents attended an event Monday night to celebrate her courage.

Last April, Grace was diagnosed with a muscular cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma not long after her 10th birthday, stemming from a tumor discovered near her pelvic bone.

PHOTOS: Kisses for Grace concert held to honor student Grace Kesablak's battle with cancer

Since then, she’s braved chemotherapy treatments and took time off school to recuperate — returning to La Crescenta’s Vahan & Anoush Chamlian Armenian School just last week.

All the while, the school’s community has rallied around Grace. Parents who didn’t have children in the fifth grade or even knew Grace or her family went about organizing a concert in her honor.

It began when Chamlian parent and alumni Linette Khachekian was watching Sebu Simonian of the band Capital Cities perform on television on New Year’s Eve.

Khachekian knew Simonian was also a Chamlian alumni who went on to graduate from Glendale High in 1996, two years before she did.

Although she didn’t know the band was one of Grace’s favorites, Khachekian knew of the girl’s cancer battle and asked in an email if he would perform for Grace.

He replied just a few hours later and agreed to perform.

“I didn’t know the family. I didn’t know if they’d be OK with it,” Khachekian recalled on Monday. “My theory is, ‘I went to the same school — we’re a family. When one of our own is not doing well, we have to be there.’ That’s basically what this is.”

For weeks, Khachekian worked with fellow parent Edlin Hajjar to spread the word about the concert.

“I think we’re a very tight-knit family,” Hajjar said of Chamlian’s school community. “The fact that we were able to get everyone out and support [Grace] means the world. I can tell you… this has never been done. It was because it was such a sincere and pure cause.”

On Monday, several Chamlian fathers showed up with large trays of cookies, wearing pink T-shirts that read, “Kisses for Grace.”

A black limousine ordered by Chamlian parents brought Grace and her parents to the event inside the gym at Glendale’s Homenetmen Ararat chapter.

Later, magician John Gabriel performed several tricks, including levitating a table and a 6-year-old girl.

Chamlian fifth-graders danced for Grace and sang Randy Newman’s “You've Got a Friend in Me.”

All the while, Diana Madison, executive director of the Hollyscoop online entertainment news show, served as host.

Glendale City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian arrived with a City Council commendation for Grace and an official city pin that’s traveled with him to the White House.

Near the conclusion of the event, Simonian performed three songs, including the single “Safe and Sound” from his band’s debut album.

“When Linette told me the idea, it sounded like something I could do,” Simonian said. “I was glad to do it and have a good time and spread some cheer.”

As for Grace, who will turn 11 on April 5, she stood before roughly 500 parents and fellow students to thank God Monday night.

“I want to thank God for always being on my side, for giving the strength to defeat my fears and for blessing me with wonderful family and friends,” she said.

The next day, she said she could feel God with her at the moment she addressed the crowd.

“When I got up on stage to say my speech, I felt like he was very proud, even from deep down. Without him, without his strength, without his hope, faith, love — I wouldn’t be here now,” she said.

Grace’s mother, Maral Kesablak, was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support for her daughter.

“I don’t know how to thank everyone,” she said. “I just want God to bless everyone.”


Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.


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