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Politics

Brooklyn Borough Hall Splendid Showcase for HCCS Graduation

BROOKLYN – The glorious sunshine that Brooklynites enjoyed on June 24 prepared the students, faculty and guests for a beautiful late afternoon at The Hellenic Classical Charter School’s Commencement Exercises for the Class of 2015. Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March #2 is no longer the preferred processional at graduations, but it was the most appropriate music for the proud graduates as they entered the ornate neoclassical courtroom at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall to the applause – “I love you” rang out at least once – of their loved ones.

Principal Christina Tettonis asked everyone to rise for the pledge of allegiance. When the multi-cultural chorus of graduates followed the American with the Greek national anthems, guests got chills – one with laryngitis could not stop himself from joining them.

After singing the school’s song, which refers to HCCS as a family, the graduates recited the school pledge which begins, “Today is a new beginning, and I can make a difference.” The moving moments that followed in succession were a tribute to the students, the faculty and those who spearheaded the establishment of the school 10 years ago, including board members Charles Capetanakis, Nikolaos Leonardos, and Harvey Newman. Andrew Gounardes, Counsel to Borough President of Brooklyn Eric Adams, in whose behalf he offered greetings and congratulations – as did representatives of numerous other public officials – welcomed everyone to his daytime home and addressed the students.

“Congratulations – you guys did it and deserve a round of applause…I am so very excited and happy for you. You have been groomed to do great things… and we need you to stand up and make a difference,” Gounardes said. Tettonis praised all the guests for their support for the school, including “the parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents – and I know we have great grandparents here also… it’s a great honor to stand here at this very important milestone for our students.”

CAP AND GOWN ORIGINS

Tettonis then shared “the story of the cap and gown … which has roots in ancient Greece at a time when formal education was only for the children of the very rich and noble.”

One year, she intoned, the upper crust guests bedecked in all their finery for a graduation ceremony gasped when they saw their sons enter the chamber dressed in the simple robes and headgear of workmen. Their teacher raised his hand to silence the crowd and explained, “Your sons are dressed in the clothing of masons, for their destiny is to build. Some will build cities, some will build lives. Perhaps, one of them will build an empire, but all will be builders on the solid foundation of knowledge.”

Tettonis then turned to the students and said, “Now you are prepared for your next journey, because your teachers and parents have prepared you … but we will miss you so much, because you were with us since you were very little.” She was the first of several speakers to tell the graduates she will be anxious to hear about their progress and accomplishments, but also that they are expected to return for any assistance or guidance they might require.

Tettonis called Newman back to the podium for the keynote address. Earlier, Tettonis told the graduates “take knowledge, wisdom and take peace and truth with you a better place, and Newman echoed the words in the somber light of recent current events. “Each of you has inherited the rich treasure of Hellenic culture and the cultures you have brought to each other,” but in addition to expressing their ethnic pride he urged them “celebrate your differences with respect and love.”

He also pushed them to dedicate themselves to “repairing the world,” or healing, which in Hebrew is expressed by the phrase tikkun olam, and whose Greek Orthodox counterpart is Theosis, the path to union with God expressed though love of humanity.

The salutatorian, Breana Michel, was unable to attend the graduation, but valedictorian Niki Gerakakis touched all the guests with her tribute to the school and the people responsible for her education and growth there. “I would not be the person I am today without HCCS” she said in flawless Greek, expressing appreciation for being taught the language and about her heritage.

Turning to her classmates, Gerakakis said “I’m going to miss you guys…you mean the world to me…Kali tichi and eis anotera.- the best of luck and continued success.”

Tettonis asked board members Capetanakis, Newman, and Leonardos to offer congratulatory remarks. Leonardos could not attend, but Effie Lekas was also called up.

A delighted Capetanaki0s thanked everyone responsible for the school’s achievements, including its recent expansion and renovations.

He shined the brightest spotlight on the students and declared that their hard work and academic striving yielded results because their remarkable test scores helped them make the case that persuaded education officials and bankers to support the construction projects. It happened “not because of us, but because of you.”

Martin DiPasquale, HCCS Class Vice President, said his nine years at the school “have been the best…and I am going to miss everyone here…but we are so close, we will probably be friends forever.” Class President Khalil Baraka called the school a second home and elicited warm laughter when he assigned family roles to the faculty and staff – including two fairy godmothers – and applause when he concluded by saying, “I’d like to thank my parents for enrolling me in the greatest school ever.”

An emotional PTA President Cynthia Molos told the graduates, “I hope HCCS has left a mark on you as all of you left a mark on us…never forget your HCCS family as he will certainly not forget you.”

When Anthony Grigos, Exec. VP of the Bay Ridge Federal Credit Union, presented the awards for academic excellence, he said he looks forward to the special task every year, and said the bank was privileged to be one of the benefactors “of this special, special school.”

The guests enjoyed a medley of songs in Greek and English performed by the chorus and a select group of five girls under the direction of Joseph Pacilio.

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