NEW YORK – The annual Miss Greek Independence pageant, a happy ritual dating to the early 1950s, shines a spotlight on some of the best and brightest young women in the Greek-American community, but the contestants represent thousands of high achievers across the country.
Claudia Giannakopoulos, whose family hails from Patras, basked in the applause and admiration of the audience who on March 7 filled the hall of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, which organizes the Greek Parade which will take place on Fifth Avenue on March 29.
Petros Galatoulas, Federation president, greeted the guests and thanked all who helped make the event a success and Maria Klambani entertained the guests on violin.
The room was filled with flowers and people brimming with joy and pride over what many believed was an extraordinary group of candidates, and while only one was crowned, the remaining contestants were honored as worthy representatives of their regions.
Nastasia Loukissis, who has Pontian roots, was the first runner up and Ioanna Katehis with roots in Erikousa was the second runner-up.
Georgia Bolas, whose roots are in Thessaloniki, Naousa, and Rhodes was named Miss Rhodes; Diana Diamantis is Miss Sparta, Anna Mittis is Miss Epiros – she has roots in Northern Epiros, Zoe Pantelos, who is from Cyprus, is Miss Mesogeio – Mediterranean, Irene Papanikolaou is Miss Tilos.
The pageant is run by the Federation’s Culture Committee, whose events are integral parts of the Federation’s promotion of Hellenism.
Avgerini Catechis, whose family is from Erikousa, is chairman of the committee and Maria Mandas were the presenters, and other member of the committee who were on hand to coordinate the event included Hara Saridaki, Anna Dritas, Manolis Christodolakis, Billy Chrissochos, Christos Psarras, Katerina Belekios, Maria Zaloni, Bessie Kalyvas, Freda Tsekerides, and Stavros Zhongas.
Sotiria Irene Sotiropoulos Miss Greek Independence 2014 was present to help crown her successor.
Catechis was very pleased with the event and the participants. “I am very proud of my committee …and we are proud of each and every one of the contestants,” but she said their qualities go beyond the women’s external attractiveness. “They were all beautiful, but they all came in with great self-assurance. It’s the first time I’ve seen that.”
The contestants are coached by the dedicated committee about how to walk in, to practice in from of a mirror, “but their demeanor comes from inside. They had that look – they were very graceful,” Catechis said.
Beautiful minds also counted, and Catechis advised the contestants to take a minute before responding to questions, and to choose whichever language they are comfortable with – “Above all, we are Greek-Americans” she said.
The women were queried on history and religion, reflecting the community’s dual Hellenic and Orthodox heritage, but there was also an important opinion question.
Giannakopoulos told The National Herald that she participated “to show how proud I am of Greece. With everything that they are going through I appreciate the ability to represent all the Greeks in America and to show the people of Greece that they are not alone, that we stand with them.”
The articulate young woman finished a master’s degree in accounting and has passed the CPA exams. She is now working in her family’s accounting firm, Giannakopoulos and Giannakopoulos in Great Neck, NY and when she completes her work experience in September and becomes licensed as a CPA she will join KPMG.
She grew up in Bayside and is the third of eight children, so she is naturally gregarious. She told TNH that she was friends with only one of her fellow contestant before the pageant, but she is looking forward to the inevitable friendships that will develop as a result of their common journey.
“We are going to be attending a lot of events together,” not to mention their thrilling ride on the float up Fifth Avenue cheered by thousands. “They are all sweet,” she said.
This year’s judges, who must take into account more than the beauty revealed through the gown competition, include Eleni Psarra, Avgerini Mouzakiti Fazio, Christina Kostaki, Nikos Bardis, Chrysoula Fiotodimitraki, Sofia Vasis, Dimitris Filipidis, George Galatoulas, George Pantelides and Chris Vournas.
Mandas, a pre-K teacher for the Greek American Institute whose mother is from Crete and whose father is from Andros, was the first runner up in 2004. She told TNH “I was so honored, it was such a wonderful experience that I wanted to give back” by being involved on the cultural committee.
Kassy Loukissas, a Pontian from Drama, was both excited and anxious for her daughter, and added “I am happy for all the girls because it’s an opportunity to experience something new in their lives.”
Anna Mallis, who was a contestant in the 1970s and was chosen as Miss Greek Knowledge, has fond memories of that time in her life, and of Georgia Stefanakos who was then in charge. She was also first runner up in the Miss GAPA contest.
George Dellis said “I am impressed with all the girls. They are very attractive, they have elegance and they are very good speakers. The great thing about the Greek community is that it promotes higher education, which is a top priority for all of the contestants.”
UNITY MEETING A SUCCESS
Galatoulas was also excited because the day also saw what he calls a seminal meeting among leaders of Hellenic federations and national associations from across America. “We talked about the future of Hellenism and the importance of uniting Hellenes through the creation of an umbrella organization. Among those participating were the federations from Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, and societies representing Central Greece, Pontians, Arcadia, Crete, Macedonia and Cyprus. Northern California participated via Skype.
(L-R) Georgia Bolas, Irene Papanikolaou, Anna Maria Miti, Nastasia Loukissas, Petros Galatoulas, Avgerini Catechis, Claudia Giannakopoulos, Miss G.I. 2015, Sotiria Irene Sotiropoulou. Miss G.I. 2014, unidentified woman, Ioanna Catechis, Diana Diamantis, Zoe Pantelas, Maria Mandas.