General News

Queens College Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 50th Anniversary Gala

NEW YORK – The Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at Queens College held its 50th Anniversary Gala in a festive atmosphere on May 17 at Terrace on the Park in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, NY. All proceeds from the event will benefit the Center’s education programs.

At the Gala, Christopher Stratakis, Esq., former Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, was honored with the Harry J. Psomiades Memorial Award.

Christopher Stratakis, Esq. was honored with the Harry J. Psomiades Memorial Award which was presented by Queens College Associate Provost Maria DeLongoria. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

Award-winning journalist and member of the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies Advisory Board John Metaxas served as the Master of Ceremonies and noted that the Center has now educated three generations of students. Founded just weeks after the brutal Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974,” Metaxas pointed out that the Center, made an important statement that Hellenic culture and history cannot be erased and the centers existence continues to make that statement 50 years later.”

Honoree Christopher Stratakis, Esq. was presented with a proclamation from New York State Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris at the Queens College Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 50th Anniversary Gala, left to right: Stratakis, Irene Stathatos, and Professor Gerasimus Katsan. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

He spoke movingly of his late father, Takis Metaxas, who served on the Board of Advisors in the early yeas and was a close friend of Professor Harry J. Psomiades, the founder and director (from 1974 to 2004) of the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. “They both believed in the importance of Hellenism and they worked together so hard to preserve it,” Metaxas said. “I know Harry and my dad are smiling down on us this evening.”

Philip Christopher gave the closing remarks at the event with MC John Metaxas at left.

Metaxas also noted the contribution of Professor Christos P. Ioannides who followed Psomiades as director of the center for 18 years and though he could not attend due to health reasons shared his gratitude to all.  

Rev. Fr. Gregory Stamkopoulos, Associate Director of the Archdiocese Greek Education Department, representing His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, gave the invocation and later shared greetings from His Eminence.

Left to right: Philip Christopher, Savvy Asprou, and Maria Athanasopoulou. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

Baritone Neophytos Ioannou sang the National Anthems of the U.S., Greece, and Cyprus and received enthusiastic applause.

The Center’s current director Professor Gerasimus Katsan then gave the welcoming remarks, thanking the alumni, friends, and supporters present and all those who shared their greetings and best wishes for the milestone 50th anniversary. He thanked the Advisory Board members Philip Christopher, Antonis Diamataris, Peter Gerazounis, Effie Lekas, Markos Marinakis, John Metaxas, Demos Siokis, Savas Tsivicos, Costas Vangelatos, Efstathios Valiotis, and Jimmy Zevoudis. Katsan also thanked George Makkos of Terrace on the Park and all those who helped organize the event.

Efstathios Valiotis, at the podium, introduced the honoree Christopher Stratakis, Esq. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

“Now more than ever we need the unwavering support of the community in order to ensure that the next generation of young scholars will also be able to explore, experience, and benefit from the study of neo-Hellenic language and culture,” Katsan said.

Metaxas then acknowledged Effie Lekas “whose service to the Center and its students is unsurpassed,” noting that she “joined the Center in 1985 as Assistant Director and was Harry’s indispensable right hand, she served the same role for Christos, and served the Center for 35 years, longer than Harry and longer than Christos, and for Effie it was all about the students, the 20,000 plus who came through the Center were all her ‘children’ and serving them was her labor of love, thank you, Effie, we all love you.” 

Professor Gerasimus Katsan, Director of the Queens College Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides, an alumni of Queens College, shared his greetings and best wishes in a video message. “The Center is very close to my heart,” Christodoulides said. “This is the place where I started my academic journey, the place I have so many vivid memories of an example of excellence and high quality education.” He noted his fond memories of all those of Queens including good friend Effie Lekas and praised the honoree Stratakis, “for his enormous contribution to the Center” as “a valuable member of the Hellenic community in the United States, a success in his own right, a committed and loyal trustee of our deep-rooted Hellenism” like the Center’s founder Harry Psomiades. Christodoulides also noted the somber 50th anniversary of the illegal Turkish invasion and continuing occupation of nearly 37% of Cyprus and how as a young Cypriot, the Center filled him “with encouragement and motivation.”

U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng at the podium during the Queens College Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 50th Anniversary Gala. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng who represents the 6th District of New York noted the diversity of the Borough of Queens and as a daughter of immigrants and a mom, highlighted the importance of preserving the history, culture, and traditions for future generations. As a member of the bipartisan Congressional Hellenic Caucus, she also noted the excellent relations between the U.S., Greece, and Cyprus, and that she has brought in three more members to the Caucus to continue their efforts. 

Queens College Associate Provost Maria DeLongoria also shared her greetings on behalf of Queens College President Dr. Frank Wu who was called away due to a family health issue.

Efstathios Valiotis, a longtime member of the Advisory Board, introduced his friend and honoree Christopher Stratakis, whom he has known for 35 years, congratulating him and noting that he hoped more people would follow Stratakis’ example and contribute to the community and to the Center.

Queens College Associate Provost Maria DeLongoria at the podium with MC John Metaxas at left. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

DeLongoria then presented the award to Stratakis who accepted in his characteristic manner, pointing out that he believes “honors are not necessary.”

“I have been blessed by God to live a long time and this is a gift from above but gifts are not a one-way street, they also have duties and responsibilities… gifts are not only to be enjoyed but to give back,” Stratakis said. “I was privileged to offer my time, talent, and treasure to the Center… rich is not the one who keeps a lot, but the one who gives out more.”

Singer Chrysa Petridou performing with the Steve Apollonatos Band at the Queens College Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 50th Anniversary Gala. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

International Coordinating Committee Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA) and Pancyprian Association of America President Philip Christopher gave the closing remarks, thanking all those for participating and organizing the event, including MC Metaxas and the representatives of Queens College and the Center, and praising the honoree Stratakis for his contributions. He noted that his wife is a graduate of Queens College and that the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies was one of the positive things that emerged after the illegal Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, “it woke us up and got us involved in the community.”

Guests enjoyed live music and dancing at the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at Queens College held its 50th Anniversary Gala on May 17. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

The Center “is an example of what our community can accomplish,” Christopher said and highlighted the vital importance of supporting the Center and all Hellenic Studies programs. “We are the second wealthiest community in the United States as Greek-Americans, we are first in education, so we as American citizens coming from the birthplace of democracy, living in the greatest democracy in the world, we have to be proud of what we have accomplished, we can’t expect Greece or Cyprus to give anything, it’s all here, the fighting spirit is here in the United States, whether it’s for Cyprus, the Aegean, or any of our Hellenic causes.”

He pointed out the support for the Center from Valiotis, Marinakis of the Chian Federation, Gerazounis of the Panchiaki Korais Society of New York, Siokis of the Kastorian Society, Vangelatos of the Kefalonian Society, and the event’s honoree Stratakis. Christopher also thanked the Greek-Cypriot community including Federation of Cypriot American Organizations and its President Kyriacos Papastylianou, Nicos Paphitis, Christos Nicolaou, and the Pancyprian Association Womens Initiative Network (WIN) President Savvy Asprou, Yiota Yerolemou, Niovi Philippou, Elena Ermogenous, and Soteroula Karacostas. Asprou then presented a $2,000 donation for the Center to its Assistant Director Dr. Maria Athanasopoulou.

Guests enjoyed the cocktail hour followed by dinner, live music and dancing. The Steve Apollonatos Band performed traditional and popular Greek favorites with the vocals of talented singer Chrysa Petridou to entertain the audience.



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