NEW YORK – The message was clear at the 40th Anniversary Certificate of Achievement Awards Dinner of the of the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies on May 28: the administration of Queens College, the faculty and staff of the Center, 16000 alumni and the Greek-American community in New York are committed not only to helping the Center thrive far into the future, but to doing their part to make the beacon of Hellenism lit by the late revered Dr. Harry Psomiades shine brighter than ever.
Dr. Christos Ioannides, the Director, and Dr. Evangelos Gizis, Queens College’s Interim President, congratulated the students and their families, welcomed the guests and dignitaries, and thanked the program’s Advisory Council and benefactors, including the Onassis foundation and the member organizations of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York.
Both men presented an overview of the challenges and opportunities faced the Center, which was created by Psomiades to house interdisciplinary and diachronic programs that presented Hellenism in all its facets through from the classical period.
Numerous speakers honored the memories of Psomiades and pioneer professors Angela Hero and Elizabeth Constantinides.
Ioannides, who MC’d the event, declared that the achievements of the alumni are Center’s success story, who along with the current students who received the record number of 35 scholarships are the living expressions of the dreams and sacrifices of the hard-working immigrants who made sure their children received the education that is the foundation of the American dream.
Alumni were in the spotlight all night long. They presented many of the scholarships and Fr. Vasilios Bassakyros ’96, representing Archbishop Demetrios, offered the invocation and the benediction. Elena Toumaras, a second generation alumna, sang the national anthems.
Nikos Papaconstantinou, representing George Iliopoulos, the Greek Consul General, urged a round of applause for everyone in the room “because you have made it a successful center,” along with Psomiades, Ioannides, and Effie Lekas, the Center’s Assistant Director, whom he said, “was present at the creation.”
Lekas organized the evening’s celebration of Hellenism and Excellence. Reflecting the feelings pride of the guests in the achievements of the alumni who shared star billing this year with the graduates, she could not stop the tears of pride as she introduced the 2015 Alumnus of the year, Dr. Nikos Christodoulides ’07, Government Spokesperson of Cyprus. By sheer will power she kept her eyes dry when she presented Costas Constantinides ’05, the first Greek or Cypriot ever elected to the New York City Council.
Christodoulides, of whom Lekas said that from the moment he arrived from Cyprus at the age of 19 “he personified the very essence of the Center as Harry envisioned it 40 years ago,” began by praising Psomiades.
Addressing the crisis his homeland is experiencing, he began his presentation of this year’s Harry J. Psomiades Memorial Lecture titled “Restoring Icarus’ Wings: A new Mythology for Cyprus” by asking “did we fly too close to the sun?” He does not think so. “I think we simply lost our course.”
After a brief historic overview, in which he noted that until now the geography that has determined Cyprus’ history has been more a curse than a blessing, and acknowledged both past errors and the people’s current struggles, he said that his country is back on track and has seized the opportunity to implement long-needed reforms and restructure its economy.
With traditional key sectors showing more resilience than expected, and the promising energy sector moving forward, he said the Troika is forecasting a return to growth by 2015.
On the political front, he noted Turkey’s threats are the only exception to the pattern of international cooperation that has emerged in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Numerous speakers noted that another anniversary looms: in July 40 years will have passed since the illegal Turkish invasion and occupation.
The latest round of reunification talks are therefore crucial, and Christodoulides said President Nicos Anastasiades proposals for confidence building measures, including the return of Greek Cypriots to Varosha-Famagusta, could be a game-changer, creating momentum, and constituting an important sign of Turkey’s real intentions. “But as yet we are still awaiting a positive response,” he said.
Ambassador Nicholas Emiliou, Cyprus’ UN Ambassador and its Consul General in New York, Amb. Vasilios Philippou, praised the Center and all who make its success possible and congratulated the students and
Amalia Bournias ’91 expressed the feelings of many types of alum when she said the Center provided them with both roots and wings, and Costas Vagelatos ’79, urged the alums to convert their love into action. When he presented the Prof. Angela Hero scholarship, he asked those present to commit themselves to work to pass the light of Hellenism to future generations by establishing an alumni association that would raise funds for the program.