NEW YORK – The annual certificate of achievements awards dinner and Harry J. Psomiades Memorial Lecture of Queens College’s Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies was held on May 20 in the Student Union building.
Approximately 31 scholarships funded by individuals and organizations were awarded, and Dr. Andre Gerolymatos, Director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and a regular TNH columnist, presented the keynote address.
Center Director Dr. Christos Ioannides acknowledged the dignitaries including Amb. Vasilios Philippou, Consul General of Cyprus and Manos Koubarakis, the Consul of Greece, and announced that this year’s ceremony “dedicated to the memory of our beloved student, Peter Papavasilopoulos.”
Alumna Elena Toumaras sang the Greek and American national anthems and Very Rev. Vasilios Bassakyros, an alumni of the Center, offered the invocation. He also paid tribute to Papavasilopoulos, whom he came to know through hospital visits. He was so impressed with the young man’s character and spirit as he battled cancer that the Bassakyros family named the scholarship they endowed for him.
Xenia Kokkinos, who was the first recipient of the scholarship, was also Papavasilopoulos’ friend. During her moving tribute, she said “he taught me more about life than any textbook or class could,” and added he himself gave his friends tools to cope “with the unimaginable sense of loss” evoked by his death.
During his remarks, Ioannides said there were too many organizations deserving thanks to be named, but he spotlighted the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, the umbrella organization that organizes the Greek parade on Fifth Avenue and which provides four of the scholarship.
The Federation was represented by Petros Galatoulas and Elias Tsekerides, current and past presidents, respectively.
Ioannides thanked his colleagues and staff, and said “it is through their dedication and scholarship that we provide our students – a first class education through the Center’s programs.” 16,000 have passed through the Center that was established by Psomiades 41 years ago.
Effie Lekas, the Center’s Assistant Director who completed 30 years of service and coordinates the graduation events, was singled out for tribute by Ioannides. “I thank her for her passion, commitment and professionalism and her vital contribution to making the Center the institution it is today.”
Ioannides thanked the Onassis Foundation (USA) for its continued support of the Center, lauding Dr. Maria Sereti, ?Director of Educational Affairs, Amalia Cosmetatou, the new Executive Director, and Foundation President Antonis Papadimitriou. “But I would be remiss,” he said, if I did not thank the previous Executive Director, Amb. Loucas Tsilas,” who attended with his wife Penelope. “His support of the Center over the years has been magnificent.”
Koubarakis praised the Center and the legacy of Psomiades and congratulated the students, of whom he said “we proudly recognize the promising scholars…who will guarantee the future of Hellenic Studies in the United States.”
Philippou concluded his remarks in praise of the Center with a touching message to the students: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of the opinions of others drown out your inner voice…have the courage to follow your intuition.”
The speakers included Elizabeth Hendley, acting Provost and VP for Academic Affairs, and City Councilman Costas Constantinides, another proud graduate of the Center, and
Christos Stratakis, the Chairman of the Advisory Council of the Center.
Hendley introduced Gerolymatos, who was present with his wife Beverly and whose writing beyond his TNH column includes authorship of numerous books and articles.
He introduced his topic, “Greek-German Relations From Romanticism to War Reparations” with a description of the veritable love affair of not only intellectuals, as was the case in other European countries, but of Germans of all social levels for all things Greek.
Gerolymatos moved to the present and noted that the current voices from Germany, however, are dominated by expressions of self-righteousness fueled by short memories that causes them to reject all of Greece’s proposals for alleviating its economic crisis.
“There is one successful formula to deal with state owned debt,” he said, however. “How about forgiving half the Greek debt. And them pay the other half over a thirty-year period at 3% interest, but have payments due when Greece runs a trade surplus – should that ever happen.”
This suggestion is not so incredible. As a matter of fact, it is the terms of the Treaty
of London between the Western allies and West Germany that was concluded on August 8, 1953.
He also debunked the myth that the 1990 treaty that reunified Germany closed the door on reparations payments – his examination of the relevant documents found no such references.
Gerolymatos quipped that it is understandable that Germany does not want to be reminded of the legacy of WWII. “It is a grim legacy.”
The Greeks don’t want to be reminded of theirs either. “The Greek legacy is one of corruption, let’s be honest about it, and debt…and a resistance to change, but I would rather have that legacy than one of murdering millions.”
Among the highlights of the night was the presentation of the award for Alumni of the Year to Maria Douris (‘03) – the daughter of an alumni – by Constantinides, its first recipient. The Center helped prepared her for a career in public service; she is the Director of City Studies for the Citizens Budget Commission.
There was also a touching farewell presentation to Nikos Papaconstantinou, who just retired after serving as director of the Greek Press Office in New York.
Among the new scholarships was one dedicated to the late Emanuel Demos. “He did so much for the center and we are most grateful to him,” said Ioannides.
The awarding of the new Pella Publishing Company Scholarship to Stavroula Katsihtis prompted Ioannides to thank and praise its founder, Leandros Papathanasiou for the decades of support Pella offered to Greek scholars.