FLUSHING, NY – The students of the Stephen and Areti Cherpelis Hellenic afternoon school of the St. Nicholas community in Flushing graduated on June 18.
The students and parents were greeted with greetings by presiding priest of St. Nicholas Fr. Paul Palesty, Parish Council First Vice President Larry Hotzoglou, School Board President Maria Zolotas, and President of Archdiocese’s High Council for Greek Education in the U.S. Athena Kromidas. Also present was the benefactor of the school, president of the Greek Education Committee for the Archdiocese, and Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Stephen Cherpelis.
Editor and publisher of Ethnikos Kirikas Eraklis Diamataris, who had also graduated from the same school, was also invited to the graduation. In his speech, he pointed out the high academic standards of the school, expressing at the same time his gratitude for the difficult and necessary work that is being done at St. Nicholas.
Addressing the senior students, he said: "For the graduates, the stars of the day. All your hard work, every time you did not want to go to Greek school as tired as you were from your regular school day, this hard work has brought you to this enviable moment.
“I am sure that many of your friends who are not Greek did not understand and could not understand the sacrifices you made to get here. Believe me it was worth it, and I say it from personal experience because I myself was once here where you are now.
You may not fully understand this now, but I guarantee you will be glad you did in the future. Not only for the friendships you made here, but also for the fact that you learned to read, write, and speak Greek well. One of the many goals of your education is that when you go to Greece you will not have a tourist or superficial visit. The whole point is to be able to go and connect, on a deeper level, with your Greek roots.
“Along with my annual visits to Greece, the St. Nicholas Greek afternoon school gave me the opportunity to be where I am today, editor and publisher of the oldest daily newspaper in the Greek language outside Greece, which is now 106 years old. I could not write and read Greek at the level I can now without the foundations laid by our school, this school. I will always be grateful for that. Today's graduates are the continuation of a long, glorious history of Greeks in America. Our parents and ancestors came to this country in search of an opportunity, and they earned that opportunity with great effort and created a better life for future generations. You students are the hope of our community.”
Mr. Cherpelis, addressing Mr. Diamataris, said that he remembers the day of his graduation: “I remember, you said that one day you will not only become President of the United States but the first Greek Orthodox President of the United States. I remember that. And that is why you spoke so well tonight and that is why you are who you are and you are the editor of the largest newspaper for Hellenism living abroad, not only in the U.S. but all over the world. That fact must be taken into account. "
Among the top students for this year were Valedictorian Paschalis Petrinos and Salutatorian Spyros Argenas.
Eraklis Diamataris, editor and publisher of Ethnikos Kirikas at the graduation for the students of the Stephen and Areti Cherpelis Hellenic School at St. Nicholas in Flushing. (Photo: TNH/ Zafeiris Haitidis)
Petrinos in his speech, after thanking his teachers, the principal and the community for his award, said: “I remember as if it were now, the first day I came to the Stephen & Areti Cherpelis Hellenic School. I did not know anyone and I was anxious about how I would meet my new classmates and teachers. But very soon I got used to it and I even started to like Greek school and I was looking forward to the days when I would go.”
He continued, “I experienced many beautiful moments participating in celebrations, events and parades of the Greek community in New York. I met new friends with whom we became more attached outside of school and I believe that our friendship will last forever. An experience I will never forget is when at a celebration of October 28th I had to play a German officer who fought the Greeks, something I did not want at all. We laughed a lot during the rehearsals and generally had a great time.”
In his speech, Argenas referred to what the Greek school has offered him during these eight years. "I learned not only the language but also Greek history, religion and our tradition. I learned what it means to be Greek. It means to be proud of your homeland, which has given the light of civilization to the whole world. Being Greek means respecting other cultures. I learned what it means to be a good Christian. It means helping your fellow man. It means to go to church, to forgive others, and to move forward with the power of love.”
The student also referred to the 200th anniversary of the start of the Greek Revolution, saying: "Before the liberation of Greece, the Church taught our language secretly. Let's not forget the ‘secret’ school. The Greek language remained alive thanks to the Church. And today, though they covered with a veil the icon of the Virgin Mary in Agia Sophia, she will always protect us and guide us.”
The Principal of the Greek school, Panagiota Lilikakis, recalled what she experienced with the students all these years in the classroom: “I remember getting ready for the national holidays, putting on the costumes, and passionately pretending to be heroes. Rehearsals that only we know how much work they did. ‘What do you mean you have not yet learned your lines! Come on, let's go louder! Imagine that day we have no microphones, no one will hear us! Okay, it went well, but let's go again!’ And you to shake your legs with irritation – and with patience start again – on the day of the celebration, everything is ready. Wait your turn, go up on stage, it's not you but the heroes up on the stage. Bowing, loud applause, we communicate with the eyes, well done!”
Lilikakis continued: “My favorite moment is co-teaching with Mrs. Vlachogianni. Lesson 'What is Greece.’ You form a big circle to fit a country, we look on at you with pride. You form rays from the circle – you write, souvlakia, music, theater, democracy, cities, villages, sea, philosophy! You present the final result and we are proud of you. It became the circle of the sun and illuminated your faces.”
Saying goodbye to her students after their "journey" through Greek school, she shared with them the seven deadly sins according to Gandhi: “Wealth without work, knowledge without character, politics without principle, pleasure without conscience, commerce without morality, science without humanity, religion without sacrifice.”
The 12 graduate students received scholarships contributed by organizations and Greek-American companies that support the Greek school every year as much as they can.