Washington, D.C. – On October 17, 2004, the American Hellenic Institute Foundation held its 3rd Annual Conference on “The Future of Hellenism in America” at the Capital Hilton Hotel. The conference featured prominent speakers from the fields of education, law, and the private sector, who identified key challenges facing the Greek American community today.
Opening the conference was James Marketos, Esq., Chairman of the American Hellenic Institute. The moderator for the morning session was Dr. Dean C. Lomis, Director Emeritus for the International Center at the University of Delaware. The morning session speakers included: Gene Rossides, President of the American Hellenic Institute Foundation, Ted G. Spyropoulos, President of the Hellenic American National Council, Hercules Mousiades, Professor at the Anatolia College and Managing Principal for Praxi Management Consultants, and Professor Leonidas Polopolus, Co-Director for the Center for Greek Studies at University of Florida. The luncheon speaker was Ambassador Loucas Tsilas, Executive Director for the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, Inc.
The moderator for the afternoon session was Nick Larigakis, Executive Director of the American Hellenic Institute. The afternoon panel speakers included: Thanos Basdekis, Esq., Partner, Reagan, Halperin & Long, Alexander Kitroeff, Professor of History at Haverford College, and Father Charles Joanides, Ph.D.
Mr. Marketos opening remarks included an outline of the themes of the conference, “education, professionalism, the impact of Greece’s changing identity on Hellenism, the continuing relevancy of our Hellenic heritage, our community’s goals, its role in the future of Hellenism, and the impact of interfaith marriage.” Also, Mr. Marketos touched on the challenges of maintaining Hellenism in America and introduced the topics of the morning panel speakers.
Mr. Rossides gave a presentation on “The Role of the Greek American Community and the Future of Hellenism.” His thesis is that the Greek American community has an important role to play (1) in the preservation and strengthening of Hellenism in the U.S. and (2) explaining to our fellow Americans the influence of Ancient Greece and Hellenism on American democracy. To accomplish this, Mr. Rossides suggested a three-fold approach for Greek Americans: (1) active participation in the political arena; (2) an active effort with the U.S. media—TV, radio, newspapers, journals; and (3) an active effort with the academic community and think tanks.
Mr. Spyropoulos spoke on “Establishing Greek Charter Schools: How you would begin and Why They are Important to the Future of the Community.” In his speech, he emphasized the significance of the Greek language to the future of Greek American youth, as well as the challenges to achieving this goal. He then went into specifics on particular Greek American Charter Schools, their academic standards and future plans. Additionally, Mr. Spyropoulos spoke about the methods of teaching at Charter Schools, through the use of both English and Greek.
Mr. Mousiades gave his presentation on “Educating Greek Americans in Greece and How an American University in Greece can Contribute to Hellenism in America.” He discussed the challenges of preserving our Hellenic identity while remaining integrated in American society. He also explained how identity, defined by religion, heritage, history, culture, customs, and language plays a key role in determining Hellenism. Mr. Mousiades said, “We must take pride in our identity as Hellenes or we will tend to hide it, to blend it in. To have pride we must know and understand our identity or we will be molded by others’ perceptions.” Mr. Mousiades then went into detail about the American College of Thessaloniki, Anatolia College, and how it facilitates the promotion of Hellenism.
Mr. Polopolus, in his speech “The Importance of Establishing Greek Chairs at American Universities,” stressed the significance of exploring Hellenic roots and Greek studies through leadership and institutions. He offered the basic guiding principles in establishing Greek chairs and programs by comparing these to his own experience at the University of Florida. Mr. Polopolus said, “Most of our Hellenic civilization courses are filled to room capacity.” This success is due to the excellence of the faculty with their “international reputations and specialties which attract a following.” Additionally, Mr. Polopolus spoke on how the Greek American community needs to continue to generate pride in Greek ancestry. In conclusion, Mr. Polopolus quoting from Dionysios Solomos stated, “Embrace Greece in your soul; and you will know grandeur.”
During the luncheon, Ambassador Tsilas spoke on, “The relevance of Hellenic Heritage.” “The Hellenic Heritage with its universal and diachronic values and principles, namely representative government, individual freedom, the right to define oneself according to one’s conscience, and the quest for truth and beauty, has had, and continues to have, a decisive impact on every kind of human endeavour, everything from philosophy to politics, from medicine to pharmacy, and from architecture to literature. Therefore, asking whether Hellenism is relevant today is like asking if blood is relevant to the body, if food is relevant to hunger, and if salt is relevant to taste,” said Ambassador Loucas Tsilas.
In the afternoon panel discussion, Thanos Basdekis spoke about, “The Importance of Young Professionals Being Active Participants in Promoting Hellenism.” In this presentation, he emphasized two main points, (1) what it means to promote Hellenism, and (2) what are the benefits to promoting Hellenism for young professionals. Mr. Basdekis gave his own unique definition of Hellenism “not just through the lens of words, but through the lens of action” by examining Pericles and Alexander. His concluding analysis was that, “Hellenism requires a commitment to public service and the engagement of others.” As for the second point, Mr. Basdekis advises that the experience of engaging with others in “those encounters will train you and open your mind in ways that you could not otherwise have known.”
In Professor Kitroeff’s speech about, “Athens 2004 and its Meaning for Hellenism in America.” The success and pride of the Athens 2004 Olympics for Greeks and Greek Americans alike was highlighted. He spoke about this extraoridinary accomplishment for such a small country as Greece, and how it needs to be emphasized now more than ever before as a new modern face. Mr. Kitroeff pointed out that this period is the emergence of a new Greece and a new attitude of the Greeks.
Father Charles Joanides, Ph.D. discussed “The Impact of Interfaith Marriage on the Future of Hellenism.” In his presentation, Father Charles provided a brief overview of the research he has conducted on this subject and discussed some implications as they apply to the promotion of Hellenism. In particular, Father Charles observes that most intermarried couples view their differences from a positive perspective that can potentially enrich their lives. He also indicated that these couples encounter certain challenges related to their religious and cultural differences.
The Conference organizer Nick Larigakis stated, “This Conference, initiated by AHI three years ago, serves to provide a forum whereby a discussion on the Future of Hellenism can ensue. The important thing is to continue to educate ourselves on these very important issues regarding our community. In doing so, it will assist us to provide a critical analysis and realistic recommendations regarding the future needs of Greek Americans. I wish to especially thank the participants, speakers, and benefactors who contributed to a successful 3rd Annual AHIF Conference.”
Benefactors who helped make the AHIF’s conference possible include: Nicholas J. Bouras, Summit, New Jersey; Dr. James Faller, Willmington, Deleware; James and Nike Lagos, Springfield, Ohio; Ted Leonsis, Washington, DC; Dr. Spiro Macris, Wilmington, North Carolina; Ted, Lea, Jim and Wanda Pedas, Washington, DC; Gene and Aphrodite Rossides, Washington, DC; Savvas Savopoulos, Washington, DC; Ted G. Spyropoulos, Chicago, Illinois; and George Marcus, San Francisco, California.