ATHENS – For the Greek-American community to not merely survive but to thrive in the future, a critical mass of the younger generations must be encouraged to know and care about its culture and traditions – and its national issues. On July 9 the farewell dinner wrapping up the 13th annual
College Student Foreign Policy Study Trip to Greece and Cyprus of the American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) was a good sign.
AHI President Nicholas Larigakis warmly welcomed and thanked the guests, which included leading military and government officials who came to honor the students and express their appreciation for the work of AHI and for the Greek-American community.
Larigakis noted with pride that the trip “is by far the most important program established by AHI,” and urged the guests to follow the slide presentation that played throughout the evening which included photos of the almost 17 days of the students' interactions with high level officials in Washington, DC, Athens, and Nicosia, as well as their visits to important sites – the infamous Green Line dividing the Republic of Cyprus not lest among them.
Larigakis acknowledged the presence of AHI Board members, including President of AHI Athens Chapter, George Economou, and its Vice President, Ret. Rear Admiral Vassileios Kyriazis. He thanked Greek officials for all their assistance, including arranging fascinating visits to the bases at Souda Bay in Crete and the island of Salamis. He also thanked Dr. John Chryssoulakis, Secretary General for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy, for his support and for a private tour and dinner at the Acropolis Museum.
Dr. Niki Kalogerakou, Chief Communication Officer of Capital Ship Management, was thanked for the company's supporting the program from its inception, for arranging a tour of the renowned Karaiskaki soccer stadium, and for a lovely seafood dinner in the nearby Kastela district of Piraeus.
Complemented by wonderful fare that was served in the Ballroom of the renowned Grand Bretagne hotel, whose longstanding support for the program was also cited, the guests enjoyed the brief presentations of the students about their experiences.
All the students began by thanking Larigakis, AHI staff and members, and the Greek and Cypriot officials who hosted guided them.
Michael Arianas, George Washington University Law School, noted the importance of endeavors like the student trip that bring Greece, Cyprus, and the United States closer together, and he looks forward learning more about the crucial issues related to the Law of the Sea in his formal studies.
Sophia Axiotis, Chapman University in Orange, California, expressed her gratitude for the trip and said it inspired her to dedicate part of her life to “giving women a bigger place on the world stage.”
Xenia Evangeloulis, George Washington University, began her presentation by honoring both her family and the heroes of the Greek Revolution by quoting her grandmother, who always told her, “life is won by the brave.”
Sophia Athan, University of Florida, marveled at how her eight fellow student were able to succinctly and eloquently offer their unique perspectives on a unique and most enlightening trip.
Stratis Bohle, Virginia Tech, noted that while Greece and Cyprus were always on the agenda at the dinner table growing up, it is one thing to hear and read about realities like the illegal Turkish occupation of Cyprus, and another to experience “the occupation of an EU capital. Seeing is believing,” he said, and he thanked AHI for the opportunity to expand his horizons.
Nicholas Dean Iliadis, a graduate of La Salle University, emphasized the importance “of Greek-Americans helping to get the United States on board and calling Turkey to account for its aggression in the East Mediterranean.”
Sophia Kapogiannis, a junior in the Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University, called it “an unforgettable trip,” and was thankful for her new friends.
Leonidas Tsirigotis, Loyola University of Maryland said he embraces his post-rip mission of telling Greek-Americans “what these places are about and what we are supposed to do.”
Andreas Papoutsis, University of California, Los Angeles, made the most memorable declaration in support of Greek-Americans doing their part by following the issues and communicating with their elected officials when he quoted, “Freedom is not free!”
Larigakis concluded the speaking program brimming with pride for the students even as he admonished them by saying that “what you do with what you learned on this trip is what matters.” He urged them to follow up their experiences with a commitment to connect with their public officials, reminding them that the power citizens are given by the U.S. Constitution to shape their country's foreign policy is unique in the world.
This year's chaperones were AHI member Maria Willis and Emily Pandis, AHI Executive Asst. and Director of Research. The latter who is completing her tenure and is preparing for graduate school, was honored by AHI at the dinner.