Commencement 2009: A Coming of Age for Students at St. Demetrios High School in Astoria and the Jamaica Day School of St. Demetrios

NEW YORK — Two historic day schools in the Greek Community of New York, St. Demetrios Greek American School in Astoria, NY – the first and only Greek American high school in the United States, and St. Demetrios Day School of Jamaica held their graduation ceremonies on Friday night June 5, 2009.

For many of St. Demetrios High School’s 43 graduating seniors, the evening represented the culmination of a journey that began back in 1997, when they first walked through the school’s gates as Kindergartners. The message of continuity was clear, as this year’s graduates were accompanied down the center aisle of the Petros G. Patrides Cultural Center, where the ceremony took place, by the class of 2021.

In fact, Class of 2009 Valedictorian Paul Spyropoulos managed to touch the hearts of many when he displayed his Kindergarten graduation cap and Class of 2009 banner, which he kept in his room throughout his years at St. Demetrios. “The year of high school graduation, 2009, seemed so far away. Yet the class of 2009 banner hung in my bedroom at the ‘iconostasi’ [icon shelve],” he noted, as the big day finally arrived.

Many prominent figures from the Greek Community were on hand for the ceremony, including Archbishop Demetrios of America, Interim Executive Director of “Leadership 100” Paulette Poulos, Consul General of Cyprus in New York Andreas Panagiotou, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Chairman Andreas Dracopoulos, The National Herald’s Publisher and Executive Editor Antonis H. Diamataris, and political representatives.

Salutatorian Christina Markesinis thanked her teachers for the patience they showed their students, the knowledge they gave them, and for making them better people. “We are now ready to face the challenges of today’s society,” she noted, while also thanking the graduates’ parents for “offering us the language and culture of our Greek homeland through this school.” In closing, as she thanked her parents, and noted that although her mother is not of Greek origin, her love for the Greek culture and language was an inspiration. Ms. Markesinis was one of four graduates to receive the Excellence in Greek Language Award, along with Alexia Makrigiannis, Elleana Maidiotis, and Anna Neophytou.

Archbishop Demetrios told students that they represent “the present,” and asked them not to be content to postpone their dreams for the future. He called on them to play an increasingly active role in community affairs, and urged them to “lay claim to their rights.”

Speaking about young people’s relation with their parish, he noted that there was a statistic that applied to all denominations suggesting that young people are closest to their church from the time of their birth until early adolescence. Subsequently, during the age range 17-35, this connection diminishes. The Archbishop asked the graduates not to become part of this statistic, and to remain involved in their parish and community life.

Citing one of the graduate’s speeches, he said he would change her statement from “Astoria is little piece of Greece in the heart of New York,” to “Astoria is a great part of Greece in New York.” As he congratulated the students, Archbishop Demetrios said “Greece is here, Orthodoxy is here.”

In closing, he called on the students to keep their faith in Christ intact, reminding them of Christ’s words that whoever believes in Him shall do the things that He does, and even greater things.

St. Demetrios High School Principal Anastasios Koularmanis thanked the Archbishop for helping strengthen his faith personally, and noted that they both share a common anniversary. Archbishop Demetrios is celebrating 10 years at the head of the Archdiocese of America, while Mr. Koularmanis is celebrating his 10-year-anniversary as Principal.

Parish Council President Costas Eliades Esq. offered the graduates his words of advice, and noted that he too was in their shoes not too long ago. Mr. Eliades, a St. Demetrios alumnus, went on to graduate law school.

School Board President Nick Andriotis commented that the St. Demetrios family takes immense pride in their school, and thanked Andreas Dracopoulos for his financial backing. “Mr. Dracopoulos is our school’s great supporter,” he said, while also thanking Mr. Diamataris for his continuous encouragement.

Guest speaker Paulette Poulos, who has been affiliated with the Archdiocese of America since 1965 and served as a top aide to the late Archbishop Iakovos up until his death cited one of the prelate’s favorite sayings: “If you have faith you can achieve anything set before you.” In her address, she pointed out that this belief is actively lived out in the St. Demetrios Community of Astoria, which always leads the way at every ethnic event in the Community. She encouraged the graduates to remain faithful to their Greek roots, and urged them “not to be strangers to the Church.”

She also expressed her happiness that one of the graduates, Fotis Papiris, would be continuing his studies at Hellenic College/Holy Cross in Brookline, Mass. in pursuit of his dream of joining the clergy. “I hope to one day return to St. Demetrios to serve my community as a priest,” he said.

The Consul General of Cyprus Andreas Panagiotou congratulated the parents on hand for recognizing the importance of Hellenism and Orthodoxy in their children’s lives and sending them to a Greek American school. “St. Demetrios is no ordinary high school. The curriculum here is people-centered and based on ecumenical values that allow students to lead their lives as Greek Orthodox Christians in the United States.” Citing a famous saying by Alexander the Great, who noted that he owed his life to his parents, but the fact that he lived well to his teachers, Mr. Panagiotou hailed the efforts of the previous generations of Greek Americans to set up schools..

One of the most touching moments in the ceremony occurred when Archbishop Demetrios handed graduate Apostolis Gouvakis his high school diploma. Mr. Gouvakis was seriously injured in an accident several years ago which almost cost him his life. Following a remarkable recovery, young Apostolis graduated on time, capturing the hearts of classmates and teachers.

During her farewell address, Maria Daskalakis summed up the camaraderie that exists between her and her classmates. “Many of us have been together since Kindergarten. Let these images imprint themselves in your minds and ensure you always have a place form them as you carry them with you wherever your path may lead you.”

The Saint Demetrios Chorus and its Director Evangelos Chaziroglou also earned congratulations from Archbishop Demetrios, who admired their skillful performance of well known Greek songs from composers like Giorgos Hatzinasios, Stavros Kouyioumtzis, Giorgos Katsaros, and Manos Loizos.

George Paralemos and Irene Vasilatos were on hand representing the State Comptroller’s Office and Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, respectively, to hand out awards.

Maria Makedon, Director of the Education Department for the Direct Archdiocesan District handed out the Three Hierarchs Award for Excellence in Modern Greek to Alexia Makrigiannis, while Paul Spyropoulos received an Award for Excellence in Ancient Greek.

The 43 graduates of St. Demetrios High School Class of 2009 are Mariam Amanollahi, Matthew Bata, Spiros Aris Botos, Anstasios Daglas, Maria Daskalakis, Andronikos Diomis, George Galatoulas, Konstantinos Gamvrias, Anna Gioulos, Apostolis Gouvakis, Kalliope Hirakis, George Kalaitzidis, Emmanuella Karantenislis, Theodore Karantinidis, Lazaros Karapanagiotidis, Nicolas Katakalides, Vincent Kavellieratos, Anthony Kouridakis, George Ksinos, Elleana Maidiotis, Alexia Makrigiannis, Vasiliki Mantzoutsos, Christina Markesinis, Angela Mastorakis, Anna Neophytou, Ioannis Nicolaou, Fotis Papiris, Panagiotis Paxinos, Aristidis Santis, Alexandra Savvas, John Skarica, Harriet Skevis, Panagiotis Sota, Paul Spyropoulos, Mixail Strouraitis, Thomas Rothopi, Ioannis Tolis, Georgia Tsoumas, Alfonso Villa Jr., Evan Vlastos, Theodosis Vouniseas, Joanna Zois, and Kristi Zoto.

The Jamaica Day School St. Demetrios, which held its graduation ceremony on the same night, sent of 13 of its eighth-grade seniors to some of the top high schools in New York City, including Stuyvesant and Townsend Harris.

The keynote speaker at the event was Dr. Theodora Pinou, Assistant Professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences at Western Connecticut State University.

The School’s Principal, Dr. George Melikokis, also addressed the students one last time before they set off on their journey to high school. “The term ‘commencement ceremony’ seems somewhat strange considering tonight’s event marks the end of your studies at our school, not the beginning. And yet, the term is most appropriate, because after tonight, you will all be embarking on something new,” he noted, while stressing that the St. Demetios School has equipped them with all the knowledge and skill they need to handle the challenges that the future holds.

Dr. Melikokis also urged the students to hold on to the Greek traditions and ideals that they learned during their course of studies in Jamaica. In closing, he bid the graduating seniors farewell with the proverb’ may the wind be always at your back and the sun shine warmly upon your face’.”

Following the graduation ceremony, the school’s PTA hosted a dinner for the graduates and their parents.

The 13 graduates of the St. Demetrios School in Jamaica are Ashadaine Cole, Ashley Edwards, Simran Gupta, Manoli Hirakis, Elena Katis, Sabrina Khan, Andrew Koursaris, Labar Mobley, Joshua Morancy, Jayeda Newaz, Sterio Nika, Oladeimeji Olateju, and Ravinder Singh.