An unusually heavy Greek winter greeted me at Eleftherios Venizelos airport when I arrived in Athens on Wednesday. It has been years since – if ever – I had seen such bad weather in Athens.
Black clouds shrouded the usually blue sky. The wind was blowing demonically. You needed to hold onto something to keep from being knocked down. It was so strong.
But it is Greece. Today the wind blows hard and loud, tomorrow the storm passes, and the sun returns – and all is sweetness and light.
But we, the Hellenic Diaspora, face other winds, incessantly, in our efforts for maintaining our identity. But we do not lie down or give up. We’ve endured thousands of waves.
We are hard nuts to crack.
As I was walking through the airport and thinking about various matters, my thoughts turned to the warm, family-oriented event – full of love and purpose – that we hosted at the headquarters of the newspaper last Monday night.
It was our annual celebration of Greek Letters, which is an opportunity to honor an individual or institution as Educator of the Year. This year’s honoree was The Hellenic Classical Charter School, which was lauded for its contribution to Greek Education.
I want to say in this column that I cannot find words to describe the vindication my colleagues and I felt about the decision we made to honor those people for Greek Letters Day, the worthy principal, the teachers, and the students who attended.
I also offer a big “thank you” to to the consuls general of Greece and Cyprus, as well as to the leading figures in Greek Education in America who honored us with their presence.
I quote the main parts of my speech:
“Here at our offices we have various events. And we plan more, but for me, none of them has the significance of this event, which we have been hosting for almost thirty years.
We mark the feast of the Three Hierarchs, St. Basil Great, St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian. We celebrate them because they were educated, wise teachers, famous orators and writers, who promoted and contributed to Hellenic literature and learning.
Here are the words of their troparion, which is one of the most beautiful Orthodox hymns:
The three most great luminaries of the Three-Sun Divinity have illumined all of the world with the rays of doctrines divine and true; they are the sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdom, who with godly knowledge have watered all creation in clear and mighty streams: The great and sacred Basil, and the Theologian, wise Gregory, together with the renowned John, the famed Chrysostom of golden speech. Let us all who love their divinely-wise words come together, honoring them with hymns; for ceaselessly they offer entreaty for us to the Trinity
We host this celebration our offices to honor and publicly acknowledge the teachers, the students, the schools, the community leaders, and the clergymen who offer their services to promote and support Greek education.
This year we did something different: We honored the teachers and administrators of the Hellenic Classical Charter School. Of course, that way honor the whole school. The name says it all. Hellenic Classical Charter School.
I remember that when charter schools were first established there was a concern about the impact they could have on the schools of the Greek-American community. But I think that over the years, all of us – or almost all of us – now understood that charter schools are not replacing, rather, they are complementing our traditional schools.
Where the conditions are not right for a Greek day school to flourish, the charter schools cover, to a certain extent, the needs of the community’s students. I say up to a degree, since charter schools cannot teach theology.
And I find it very important that these schools teach non-Greek children about Greek culture and Greece. It makes them at least philhellenes. That is a big deal. Once upon a time in America people were not considered educated if they had not studied the ancient Greeks.
But this is no longer the case.
The situation was described in 1998 by a book titled Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom.
You [the Hellenic Classical Charter School] are creating new philhellenes.
Teachers and journalists have many things in common, but mainly one: we both teach.
When we celebrated the 100th anniversary of our newspaper’s founding, among the speakers was retired U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes, who said: “The National Herald is the school of the Community.” What an honor!
Today, therefore, we honor all the teachers in the person of Mrs. Christine Tetonis, the principal of the Hellenic Classical Charter School. We congratulate her and thank her for her contribution to the great cause of Greek Letters.
And I finish with the following:
Our struggle, the struggle, of a few people, mainly, to preserve our identity, which includes, or course, our language, despite the desperation that sometimes overcomes us, is bearing fruit.
We are one of the very few ethnic groups that preserves its language into the second and third generations and beyond.
Continue the fight. You are not alone.