By Catherine Tsounis
“Hellenism is being worldy. Hellenes relate to other cultures and form strong bonds of communications,” said George Veras, Emmy Award winning producer, at the first Greek Independence Day lecture at the Modrn Greek Language and Literature Program of St. John’s University. The event was on Thursday, March 17th in marrilac Hall 237A. Over seventy persons attended including: Dr. Arthur Giannelli, chairman of the Philosophy department; Dean Heitner, administrator of St. John;s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Mr. Peter Balodimas, President of the Alumni Parents Committee; and Mrs. Vicki Vagenas, St. John’s administrator. The Student Moderators were Anna Giannikouris, Mary Golding and Fay Stathellis. For more information on the Modern Greek Language and Literature program, visit http://facpub.stjohns.edu/~tsounsc.
“The work of the Greek-American community is extraordinary in keeping the Greek language alive at St. John’s University,” said Dr. Gianelli in his welcome address. “We hope they will continue their scholarship program. The Philosophy Department is indebted to the Greek culture and Aristotelian tradition. Out students study Plato and Aristotle.”
Non-native speaker of Greek are now participating in the Modern Greek Language and Literature Program. Fifty percent of the students do not speak Modern Greek in their homes. This reflects a trend across the United States. College students of a non-immigrant background want education institutions to give them a last chance to learn Modern Greek. Students from Eastern Europe and Asia have shown interest in acquiring knowledge of the Modern Greek Language. The 2005 New York Physical Therapy Sports Rehabilitation Award by Kostas D. Koutsoubis was given to a non-native speaker who excelled in her study of Modern Greek. This award was presented to Anita Pinto, a community activist on the St. John’s campus.
George Veras explained in his presentation that “1.9 million Greek-Americans live in the United States. They know how to connect and make you feel you are a part of them. Greece lifts the human spirit. When everyone was skeptical of the success of the 2004 Olympics, I said ‘you do not know them,” said Veras. “You will say this was the greatest Olympics when you leave. Something happens to one when he/she goes to Greece. You don’t have to be Greek to feel it.” He described the roots of his family from his grandparents who founded an ice cream company called Bungalow Bar.
Mr. Veras showed excerpts from his PBS special “HOMELANDS: Greece”, t. The documentary was funded by Alex Spanos. Students enjoyed interacting with Mr. Veras at the conclusion of his presentation.
The guest speaker is a legend. Through sports and music, he has shaped a positive role of Greek culture in mainstream America. The Mid- Westerner whose roots are from the island of Lesvos (Mitillene) is President of Veras Communications. He produced Yanni Live at the Acropolis in 1994 that led to the founding of Veras Communications. His company has produced and directed over 100 television shows and events, in addition to producing commercials and marketing campaigns for Yanni and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Our speaker has produced fifteen documentaries, including four on the Greek-Americans for PBS, as well as HISTORY Channel, A&E and ESPN.
He has produced over 500 shows, and was the senior producer for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, winning 9 EMMYS. Our speaker won a Sports Emmy for his Sports Century Beyond shows on Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman and Lou Gehrig, He won his eleventh Sports Emmy as the cross country skiing and biathlon producer for the 2002 Winter Olympics. The Greek-American was the Producer of the daily studio show for the 2002 Paralympics. and the Supervising Producer of all High Definition telecasts for NBC’s Athens 2004 Summer Olympics.
Mr. Veras is an Archon of the Greek Orthodox Church, an AHEPAN and a choir member at Holy Trinity in New Rochelle. He is married to the former Kimberly Gallas, and has four sons – Dimitri, 25, a PhD candidate in Astronomy at the University of Colorado, Gregory 21, a Meteorology Major at Plymouth State (N.H.), seventh grader Alexander 13 and third grader, Christopher 9.
Certificates of achievement were presented to students who completed two years of Modern Greek Language and Literature with excellence. The certificates were presented to: Stella Nicoloudakis; Christina Polios; George Vagelatos and Jamie Panas. Awards of Appreciation for their contribution to Hellenism were presented to Mr. George Veras, Dr. Arthur Gianelli, Peter Balodimas and Vickie Vagenas.
The overwhelming support of the students of St. John’s University made this and other events a huge success.