By Maggie Chafouleas
Over 250 people crowded into the Center for Hellenic Studies in Storrs, Connecticut on Sunday night to give new UConn President Thomas Katsouleas the official Greek welcome to Connecticut.
The center, run by director Ilias Tomazos, was full of happy chatter and the smell of Greek food as members of the local Greek community gathered to celebrate and hear a few remarks from Katsouleas.
“I want to say that I’m so fortunate to have Greek heritage, and I’m so proud of it. I love the culture, I love the history, I love the values, but more than that I love the bond that you feel when you meet someone speaking Greek on the street and you feel a commonality there,” Katsouleas said to the crowd. “I think that is the thing that I treasure most, and I treasure it in meeting all of you tonight.”
Katsouleas has been vocal about his pride in his Greek heritage, even referencing the ancient Greeks and their athleticism during the opening ceremony of the new Student Recreation Center. This welcome event put on by The Center gave him the opportunity to meet with Greek-Americans from across the state and to connect with students who are active members of “paideia” (Greek community) on campus.
“I couldn’t be more proud to be the first Greek president of UConn, and I will do my very best to honor your faith in me and meet your expectations,” Katsouleas said.
Katsouleas said that he did not realize until after his appointment as president that UConn is the only school in the nation that has a Greek Orthodox church on its campus. The church, located on Dog Lane in Storrs, is accompanied by the Center for Hellenic Studies where UConn classes in modern Greek and study abroad programs to Greece are led by Tomazos.
Tomazos talked in detail about his relationship with Katsouleas, saying they began exchanging emails this past summer. Tomazos laughed as he said he could not remember who reached out to who first, but that their interactions were meant to be, as they ended up meeting for the first time in Greece a couple months later.
“He is a humble man.” Tomazos said. “When I left our meeting I started calling all my friends to tell them ‘Look we are very lucky.’”
Tomazos said he was an hour late to his first meeting with Katsouleas because of a directional error. He said when he finally did arrive to the meeting, Katsouleas was worried and waiting outside for him.
“We had never met and I was late. If it was anybody else, they would be upset with me, or they would call and say ‘I’m sorry I have to go, I have other obligations.’” Tomazos said. “But no, he was waiting for over an hour to see me.”
Tomazos said Katsouleas impressed him from the beginning by being compassionate and caring about his guest. Tomazos said that in a traditional Greek manner, Katsouleas offered him lots of food and water, and even after all of that, took him out to eat at his favorite restaurant.
“Of course you would expect him to be a very smart man, with all of these degrees, to be a president of our school.” Tomazos said. “But, what I was very impressed about was that I thought he was a very humble human being. I believed that we would like him here, to have a president that is a humble man. He will look after and care for all of the kids here, not after himself and make this just one stop and then on to a bigger university. He is a person who really cares.”
Tomazos and Katsouleas both expressed desire to keep the celebration of Greek culture going throughout Katsouleas’ presidency, Katsouleas expressing his support for The Center’s ongoing project to make a Spartan museum and outdoor Greek amphitheater that will be open to the public next year.
“If it was up to me there would not be only 250 people here to welcome him, but thousands,” Tomazos said. “This is why we will make the museum, the amphitheater – they will not be open only to just Greeks, but to everybody and for everybody to learn from.”
Maggie Chafouleas is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.
Thumbnail photo by author
Photo caption: “I want to say that I’m so fortunate to have Greek heritage, and I’m so proud of it. I love the culture, I love the history, I love the values, but more than that I love the bond that you feel when you meet someone speaking Greek on the street and you feel a commonality there,” Katsouleas said to the crowd Sunday. Photo by Maggie Chafouleas / The Daily Campus