NY AHEPA Chapter 349 Held Scholarship Event
By Catherine Tsounis
AHEPA is the largest Greek-American association in the world with chapters in the United States, Canada, Greece, Cyprus, and sister chapters in Australia and New Zealand. It was established in 1922 by visionary Greek Americans to protect Hellenes from prejudice originating from the KKK. In its history, AHEPA joined with the NAACP and B’nai B’rith International to fight discrimination.
The mission of the AHEPA family is to promote the ancient Greek ideals of education, philanthropy, civic responsibility and family and individual excellence through community service and volunteerism. AHEPA Chapter 349, Staten Island, New York have been in promoting these ideals with a vigor that is a role model. First in scholarships and providing relief to the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
The 51st Annual Scholastic Achievement Awards Program was recently held at the Holy Trinity-Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Staten Island. Despina Siolas, MD & Ph.D. and Konstantinos Koulouris, R.A. & A.I.A. spoke on the topic “How Greek Language and Culture Enriches our Graduates.” The Invocation was delivered by Rev. Nick Petropoulakos. Welcoming remarks were presented by Prof. John Antonopoulos, P.E., President of AHEPA Chapter 349 and Sokratis Dapias, Master of Ceremonies. The speakers, Scholastic Awards to Greek School, High School and College were presented by Homer Vandoros, Chairman of the Board of Governors and the Executive Board. A lavish dinner was served. The Staten Island diner owners, whose children and grandchildren attend the Modern Greek Afternoon School, donated the cuisine.
The Scholastic Awards Presentation were given to the following scholars: Greek Afternoon School Graduate, Athina Fronimakis; High School graduates, Evisa Bello, George Danias, Vasiliki Drogaris, Timothy Gentle, Aleandra Ikonomou, Marina Kanakos, Konstantinos Koumousidis, Dimitrios Lintzeris, Evangelos Manolakos, Dimitrios Pavlidis, Ioanna Pefanis, Sophia Stark, Spiro Tountas, Katelyn Senakis; College Graduates, Constantinos Monioudis, Alexis Sidiropoulos, Evangelia Temaj, Angela Papaioannou, Paulina Kanakos, Gabriella Realmouto, Georgia Stasinopoulos and Marianthi Karavites.
Dr. Despina Siolas’ presentation described the meaning of Greek roots. “It has been a number of years since my Greek School graduation. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I had been enrolled in a parochial day school that required uniforms, singing songs on Greek National Holidays and religious studies. When I stood at graduation day, I didn’t realize how tumultuous and uncertain the next few years would be. At the same time, however, I didn’t fully appreciate what all those years of Greek education had taught me.
In my sophomore year of college, I had the opportunity to do research at Harvard University for the summer. This was my first time living away from my parents. I was eager to go to such a prestigious place, but also nervous. I didn’t know a single person who lived in the entire state of Massachusetts. I had to become self- reliant. I tried to find some familiar sense of home by looking up the nearest Greek Church. I became acquainted with the Greek American community. I gained an extended family of friends that I could rely on. Most of them were third and fourth generation Greek Americans whose family had immigrated to the US in WWI or WWII. This was a different community from what I was used to in NY. This was my first glimpse into how Greek Americans are able to preserve their culture for years could outside their homeland.
At St. John’s University, I took Greek lessons on a college level. Through this class, I not only continued to practice my language skills, but also came to appreciate Greek culture and Greece’s place in modern history. I learned about the struggle of the Asia Minor Greeks to the Ottoman Turks and the population exchange of 1922. This event forced 2 million Greeks to leave their homes in Turkey as Turkey began its modernization process. Years later, I visited these neighborhoods in Turkey. The stories of my Greek class came to life as I learned of the hard life the Greeks in Turkey had lived. This enlightening course is still being offered today at St. John’s University.
After college, I enrolled in a vigorous combined degree program where I emerged with both a medical degree from Stony Brook School of Medicine and a PhD doctorate in Cancer Genetics from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. I quickly found myself drowning in a sea of medical jargon. I turned to my Greek Medical dictionary to learn the meaning of anatomical terms and medical words. I felt alone. I banded with the other two Greek Americans in my class, knowing they came from a similar background. One girl, like me, was also the first in her family to go to medical school. Our similar heritage and knowledge of Greek united us as a support system to get us through the tough medical school rotations.
We all underestimated the gift that our Greek culture had given us. Our Greek education enabled us to persevere and succeed. We found internships, made contacts and discovered that Greek people look out for each other. Our years at Greek School played a great role in molding us as individuals. This is where we refined our intellects and strengthened our values and ethics, that have come into play every day of our lives in ways we don’t even realize.
I have one more story to share. Last summer, I traveled with my American friend, Susan to Greece. It was a wonderful experience to be able to introduce her to the nation where my family is from. Despite a tough economic situation, we found that Greek people welcomed us wherever we went. We made friends with strangers that were delighted we had come to learn about their homeland. We visited Chios, during the notorious masticha tree fires and traveled through Mytilene, Arcadia and Veria, a small town outside of Thessaloniki, known to have been visited by St. Paul. People proudly showed us their hometowns and taught us of their history. We left Greece with a sense of longing to return to a country filled with ancient mysteries and new challenges.
The Nation of Greece has been hit with a national tragedy. The Eurozone crisis has caused a brain drain of thousands of young skilled professionals to leave their home country in order to escape spiraling unemployment, biting austerity measures and political uncertainty. This new educated Greek diaspora is being helped by millions of Greeks already living abroad who are offering them jobs, homes and a new opportunity to build their lives outside of their home country. This is something that our ancestors have done when they came to America searching for a better life.
My message to the graduates is to hold close to you the language and heritage you have been bestowed. You must always remember that as a Hellene or Phil-Hellene, you will never be alone. We are a strong community that supports and believes in the value of our youth. Greeks have believed in education, scholarship and mentorship for thousands of years. Through your Greek American families and continual Greek studies, you have been given a set of moral values that will enable you to excel and make the right decision when faced with a challenge. The chapter of your life that you are entering now is one of vast opportunity. You are open-minded and energetic and ready to take on the world. This is the time to find and cultivate your passions.
Finally graduates, no speech is complete without a memorable quote. While I was tempted to quote Kane West, I decided upon a more appropriate quote by the Greek philosopher Epicurus who was from the island of Samos. “The greater the difficulty, the more the glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.” You must pursue the tempests and the storms. Today and every day, do not settle for what may seem to be the easy road, for the path to success has never been easy. Take advantage of the opportunities of each day.”
“The AHEPA Family of Staten Island, New York is proud to sponsor this Annual Awards Program,” said Prof. John Antonopoulos. “We are honoring our outstanding young people of Greek descent in our community. Congratulations and best of luck in your Future endeavors! You have made us proud!”
Prof. Antonopoulos added “we wish to thank our supporters for their donations by purchasing the raffle tickets that made this program possible. We extend our wishes for an enjoyable summer. Congratulations and best of Luck in yourFuture endeavors!” The international scholar has been working behind the scenes of AHEPA and Modern Greek language education. Dr. John Antonopoulos holds a PhD, CSP. He is a retired/ Professor / Safety Consultant for the MTA. In the 1990’s, he served for three years as President of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Board of Education. “I was selected by Staten Island University to go to China for three months as a visiting professor,” he explained. “I taught engineering, ergonomics and quality control for three months in 1991 and 1993 at Shanghai University.” The outstanding AHEPA leader was President of the American Society of Industrial Engineers for four years. Prof. Antonopoulos was honored by the President of the Transportation and Environmental Committees of C.B. #2 of Staten Island. He was honored by the Hon. Carolyn B. Maloney at the Capitol in 2008 and Hermes Expo in 2010 as an outstanding educator. Prof Antonopoulos and his wife, Emily, have two sons, Alexander, a Ph.D. in Pharmacy and Harry, a B.A. from CUNY and a NYC fireman.
Mrs. Emily Antonopoulos has worked behind the scenes of Greek education in Staten Island for countless years. Scholar Georgia Stasinopoulos explained “more important than my college (Harvard) degree is my certificate from Greek afternoon school with Mrs. Antonopoulos.” Rosemarie Papaioannou continued saying that “because of Mrs. Antonopoulos, I was able to communicate with my husband’s parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents. Mrs. Antonopoulos has given me a wonderful gift by sharing her love of the Greek language with me and many of her students. She respected our desire to learn and nourished and encouraged our efforts no matter how imperfect our attempts were. She is truly an inspiration to anyone who is willing to learn.” The educator has taught 30 years of Greek Afternoon School at the Holy Trinity-Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Staten Island. She was the recipient of the St. Paul Medal of Honor from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America by His Eminence, Archbishop Iakovos. She was honored as outstanding Greek language educator by the Federation of Greek Societies, Prometheus Society and Hermes Expo.
“We helped the victims of Hurricane Sandy in Staten Island,” said Dr. John Antonopoulos. “Our AHEPA chapter #349 collected $11,000. We gave $1,000 each to 11 Greek-American families who lost their homes. Our chapter was #1 in the country helping survivors.” Mrs. Emily Antonopoulos explained “the generous envelopes coming in the mail for the disaster victims were extraordinary.”
This program was made possible by the 2012-13 Executive Officers of AHEPA chapter 349 include: Prof. John Antonopoulos, P.E., President, Yiannis Ikonomou, Vice-President, Ioannis Papaioannou, Secretary and Harry Monioudis, Treasurer. The members of the 2013 Scholastic Awards Committee are George Karavitis, Homer Vandoros, Petros Vlitas, Socrates Dapias and Ioannis Papaioannou.
Photo 1 –Speakers, Scholars and Executive Board members of AHEPA.
Photo 2- Dr. Despina Siolas displaying award with Prof. John Antonopoulos, P.E. and Sokratis Dapias.
Photo 3 – Despina Siolas, MD & Ph.D. and Konstantinos Koulouris, R.A. & A.I.A. honored by Prof. John Antonopoulos, P.E., President of AHEPA Chapter 349 and Sokratis Dapias, Master of Ceremonies.