Gregory Albanis, Senior Director of University Events at New York University has a long connection with the institution. In fact, his parents both attended the university and met in what is now known as the Hellenic Heritage Association.
His father’s side of the family hails from Mytilene and his mother’s side from outside Olympia. As Albanis told The National Herald in an interview, “the Class of 1948 was the first one after the war, and many were there on the G.I. Bill. Two uncles and two aunts also met and married in that same graduating class, along with 20 or 30 others.” He noted that they still keep in touch, in spite of the advancing years, though some have passed away.
There are at least 14 degrees from NYU in the family, including the two Albanis himself earned –a bachelor’s in art history at the College of Arts and Science in 1978 and a master’s in public administration at the Wagner School in 1980. Though Albanis originally wanted a job at the National Endowment for the Arts or the National Endowment for the Humanities, he worked as an admissions officer at NYU before he began organizing events at the ever-expanding university.
As NYU transitioned from a commuter school to becoming one of the top dream schools in the United States, Albanis became the university’s director of special events. After the May 18 commencement ceremony, the 59-year-old Albanis is stepping down, but not retiring. He will stay on at NYU for a year as a consultant.
The graduation in 1997, when the event was still held in Washington Square Park, was his first as director. As the university grew, so did the ceremony, which is now held at Yankee Stadium to accommodate the thousands of people in attendance. His own 1978 graduation included yelling at his father over the traffic driving in from New Jersey for the ceremony, and the speaker, then chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Eleanor Holmes Norton. Albanis said this last commencement will be “bittersweet.”
During the last 20 years organizing events, Albanis also organized receptions for some very high profile people. “We’ve had a president, a vice president, a first lady, a secretary of state, two kings, two queens, three British prime ministers and every New York City mayor and governor,” he said. Queen Sofia of Spain chatted with him about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Glory of Byzantium exhibition on display in 1997 while she and King Juan Carlos I were visiting New York for the opening of NYU’s King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center. Albanis spoke with them on the way to the dedication of the center. He also met Former President Bill Clinton at the 2011 graduation ceremony at Yankee Stadium. Clinton was receiving an honorary degree that year and Albanis was certain it would be raining. He bought waders, the kind worn by fly fisherman, from a sporting goods store just in case. The rains were heavy, but the moment the former president arrived, the sun broke through the clouds. After Clinton’s speech, he was supposed to exit through the visitors’ dugout, but instead went through the Yankees’ dugout which Albanis knew was locked, though somehow, the Secret Service agents and the former president managed to exit.
Billy Crystal will be receiving a doctor of fine arts degree at Wednesday’s ceremony and Albanis glued an NYU tassel on a Yankees cap for the famous Yankee fan to wear.
The weather is still much on Albanis’ mind, especially since the Yankees’ own weather service sends him reports twice a day, but so far Wednesday looks to be dry for graduation. Still, as Albanis noted, he was driving down from upstate New York just yesterday and no one had mentioned rain in the forecast, and yet, it was raining. Hopefully, the sun will shine for the graduates, guests, and Albanis, who has 32,000 rain ponchos available just in case.