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His Excellency, George James Tsunis, U.S Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic of Greece. (Photo via ACS)
ATHENS – The smiles and excitement on the faces of the graduates of the Academy, the high school of the American Community Schools – Athens were a revelation: neither the pandemic, nor economic crises, not even a brutal war in the heart of Europe would put a dent in the hopes and dreams of the students during their graduation ceremony the evening of June 17.
Outgoing Chairman of the ACS Board of Trustees Suheil Sabbagh – he was succeeded by Timothy Ananiadis – rightly called it a “special evening,” which began with the traditional processional, Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance march, and greetings from Evelyn Pittas, the Academy’s vice principal.
Dr. Peggy Pelonis, President of ACS, welcomed the guests and introduced the keynote speaker, the new U.S. Ambassador to Greece George J. Tsunis. The other featured speakers included Kam Chohan, Executive Director of the Educational Collaborative for International Schools (ECIS), and Sofia Kouvelaki, CEO, The Home Project, which has worked closely with ACS to assist refugee children, four of whom were part of the remarkable graduating class of 110 students.
Dr. Pelonis’ warm introduction of Ambassador reflected her gratitude for the Ambassador devoting much time to talking with the students in recent days, and Tsunis began his thoughtful and moving address to the graduates with an expression of appreciation for “this incredible community here at ACS, dedicated faculty and staff, parents, family and friends, and most importantly, the graduate class of 2022.”
Indeed, he took the opportunity to announce that he and his wife were so impressed with ACS that all three of their children will be attending come the Fall. “I can look around and tell you I am so excited about what the future holds for them.” He then said – to chuckles of understanding from the elders in the audience – “what I wouldn’t give to trade places with any one of you!”
Congratulating the graduates, Tsunis told them, “you should be extraordinarily proud of what you’ve accomplished. You’ve gone through a lo a once-in-a-century global health crisis – you have shown tremendous resiliency, and that’s going to serve you well in college and beyond.”
With students from 62 countries, ACS is an international school rooted in American principles, and Tsunis believes the school reflects his view of the American dream, which is also imbued with the Greek spirit: “it’s about chasing your full potential, and working to make the world a better place.” He credited his personal success to the devotion and sacrifices of his immigrant parents, who emphasized education and taught him about Hellenic ideals, including “agape, and above all ‘philotimo’ – to always strive to do what’s right. Along with democracy, I believe these values are some of Greece’s greatest gifts to the world… they guide me to this day.”
He then urged them, “be grateful to your teachers today as you walk out the door – they deserve it… they are sending you into the world with…a sense of wonderment, passion, and a commitment to service to others. My advice to you is to work hard, pursue your passions, and expand the horizons of your life. Dream big, go for it – and serve others. Do well, by doing good.” He then advised them that “you accomplish more as a group than you can on your own.”
He further urged the graduates to “follow your happiness, but be mindful of the Hebrew phrase ‘tikun olam’ – the responsibility to repair the world – one person, one situation at time.”
The Ambassador concluded by saying, “we have an obligation to make the world a little better than we found it. I don’t think my generation has done it…but I think, because you are more socially conscious, that you will.”
In addition to the announcement of the scholarship recipients and the subject area and academic excellence awards, there was special recognition for the Greek Isotimia students – who took at least six hours a week of Greek language instruction and will gain Greek high school equivalence.
One of the most touching moments was the thunderous applause received by the beloved teachers and staff who were retiring, vivid testimony to the sources of the success of ACS and the enduring love of its alumni and families. Bursts of applause from friends, family, and classmates also punctuated the ‘Calling of the Roll’ of graduates by Class President William Laitinen.
The address of the salutatorian, Ellie Marisa Michailidou, was memorable for its clever form of a ‘defense’ of the graduating class in a ‘trial’ before a judge. The graduates were then honored in the speech of their classmate, valedictorian Dimitrios Chlympatsos.
David Nelson, Academy Principal, also addressed the senior class and there was a delightful musical performance by a jazz trio formed by ACS students.
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