CHICAGO – Celebrating its 16th birthday, the PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation once again awarded $250,000 in scholarships to 40 students during its annual Gala at the Hilton Chicago International Ballroom, June 14. Close to 500 supporters attended the event in honor of the Foundation’s scholars, programs, and initiatives, which include the Hellenic Birthright Program.
“The success of the event was an extraordinary response from the community, in both the attendance and their financial participation, said Chris P. Tomaras, PHSF chairman. “We interpret this response as an approval of our mission and the way we pursue it,” he added.
The Foundation has to date awarded a total of $2 million to 264 Greek-American students pursuing undergraduate studies at accredited colleges and universities across the country.
“The scholarship is more important than the monetary support it provides because it represents that we have been selected as ambassadors of Greek culture in America and it makes me proud of my Greek heritage,” said Jennifer Fokas, a sophomore at Northwestern University and 2014 PHSF scholar. “I firmly believe in the mission of the PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation because by promoting education, the Foundation is ensuring that Greek American students of the past, present, and future can use education as a tool to unlock a vast number of opportunities,” she added.
Kicking off the event as Emcee was 2008 scholarship recipient and WKOW television reporter Pete Zervakis, while the awards ceremony continued with words from PHSF Chairman Chris P. Tomaras, PHSF Executive Director Yanni Valsamas, as well as Chairman of the Academic Committee, Dr. George Alexopoulos.
“We are deeply grateful to all our friends and supporters and we promise to continue to recognize and award our best and brightest Greek American college students, while we offer meaningful financial support to those who need it,” Tomaras stated.
A Hellenic Birthright program video played during the awards ceremony, highlighting the experiences of 34 Greek American undergraduates who travelled to Greece for their first time while participating in the five-week study abroad program. Initiated two years ago through the generosity of private donors and the Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation, Hellenic Birthright will continue in 2015.
“The PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation has led to some of the most memorable experiences that I have had thus far,” Fokas said. “As a participant in the Foundation’s Hellenic Birthright Program last summer, I had the adventure of a lifetime in visiting Greece for the first time,” she added.
Fokas and 39 others from some of the country’s most prestigious universities including Northwestern, MIT, Stanford, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Chicago, were called on stage to receive their certificates. Thanking the Foundation on behalf of this year’s recipients was Demetrios Nikitopoulos, a freshman at John Hopkins pursuing a degree in Biomedical Engineering with a minor in Robotics.
“We share the pride of a rich heritage…we share the pride of a rich religious identity…we share the pride of a culture that stresses the importance of hard work, conviction, and love of family,” Nikitopoulos stated. “This is a culture of values and principles practiced by our parents and grandparents and conveyed to us by them through our upbringing,” he added.
Along with student scholars, the Foundation each year honors a Greek-American leader with the PHSF Paradigm Award. That honor this year went to James D. Speros, Executive VP and Chief Creative Officer of Fidelity Investments, who encouraged the scholarship recipients to pursue their dreams while maintaining their Hellenic and Orthodox roots.
A statement was also made that night announcing a collaboration with the American College of Greece in Athens. Known as Deree, the institution is offering an exclusive $3,000 study abroad scholarship per semester to past and present PanHellenic Scholarship recipients.
“Our goal is to continue to expand our mission. Let us make the investment in the talents of our young people so that we may continue our great legacy of education and the pursuit of excellence,” Tomaras said.
The evening continued with dinner, drinks, and musical entertainment by the Hellenic 5 Orchestra and Babis Tsertos, who flew in from Greece for the event. This year’s Gala was a success as an additional $30,000 were raised that night in a “call to action,” while another $40,000 was raised from the gala raffle. Winner of the $10,000 grand raffle prize was Andreas D. Comodromos, followed by Sue Regas with the second prize of $5,000, and Julie Zaharopoulos with the third prize of $1,000.
“The Gala was a beautiful celebration of the hard work and academic successes of a group of brilliant Greek American students, and I am so humbled to be a part of it,” Fokas said.