Renowned Scientist Joan Vernikos, formerly of NASA, receives Aristeon Award – Keynote Address Delivered by Acclaimed Chef Michael Psilakis.
Washington, DC – On November 13, 20010, the Hellenic American Women’s Council (HAWC) hosted its 17th Annual Conference: “Loving your Life – Living your Passion” at the St. Regis Hotel. Attendees heard first-hand from award-winning chef and author of How to Roast a Lamb Michael Psilakis (keynote address), Georgetown Cupcake owners Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne, and Otrera CEO Elle Sakellis how they launched successful careers and businesses doing what they love most. Proceedings were moderated by FOX 5 News (Washington, D.C.) co-anchor Laura Evans.
Joan Vernikos, Ph.D., former Director of Life Sciences at NASA, was presented with this year’s Aristeon Award for her outstanding professional and personal accomplishments by HAWC President and conference chair Maria Stamoulas.
“I appreciate this deeply, this honor and this unique recognition of my passion,” said Vernikos. She also reflected on the role of passion in creating energy for many aspects of life: “In order to lead a fulfilling life, you need to generate energy. What is energy? Actually, energy comes from passion. The more passion, the more energy you have; the more desire you have; the better you appreciate the person around you and yourself, and everything that happens – from the sunset you watch, to the person next to you, to the path you take whatever that happens to be.”
Vernikos is the founder and president of Thirdage LLC, specializing in promoting wellness in seniors by applying the lessons learned from her scientific research. She previously served as Director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division, where she pioneered gravity-related research on the aging effects of spaceflight on the human body. For this work and her leadership in the space sciences, she has received numerous awards including the Strughold as well as the Leverett Awards from the Aerospace Medical Association, the Jeffries Award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Women in Aerospace. Well-known throughout the scientific community, Dr. Vernikos has published over 200 scientific papers and reviews and has served on editorial boards of scientific journals.
The Aristeon Award is presented annually by HAWC to an “Aristi” woman who has made an extraordinary contribution to the ideals of Hellenism in her professional and personal life, and has made a significant contribution to society.
Morning Session Proceedings:
Evans opened Saturday morning’s panel describing the path she took in pursuing her dream of delivering the news on television. Unlike some of the other speakers who discovered their passion later in life, Evans knew in seventh grade that she wanted to be a news reporter. She worked tirelessly to achieve that objective and eventually found herself in Washington, DC as a co-anchor of Fox 5 News. As her career progressed, her dream of being a successful journalist evolved to include having a family of her own. “I realized that for me, living my dream also meant having balance in my life,” Evans said.
The Kallinis sisters of Georgetown Cupcake discussed how growing up in a Greek household had a profound influence not only on their love of food and baking, in particular, but also on their willingness to take risks. Under their grandmother’s watchful eye, the Kallinis sisters honed their cooking and baking skills. From their grandfather, who emigrated from Greece to find a better life, they learned that to achieve your dreams you sometimes need to take a risk. Following his example, the Kallinis sisters left behind their corporate jobs to open their bakery on Valentine’s Day 2008.
Making a lot of money was not the Kallinis sister’s objective. Rather, they opened Georgetown Cupcake because they wanted to do something together that they really loved and with which they hoped they could make a living. Two and a half years later their business is thriving with over 200 employees and two stores. They are also in the second season of shooting their “DC Cupcakes” television series on TLC and have received various other accolades for their business.
According to Kallinis and LaMontagne, “We feel we have really lucked out that we are living our passion,” but also advised, “You can do what you love, but you still have to work hard.”
Sakellis identified September 11, 2001 as the pivotal point that led her to a new path in life as CEO of Otrera, a private label jewelry business. After narrowly escaping the collapse of the Twin Towers, she entered a period of self-reflection that included jewelry-making as a cathartic exercise. Through a combination of talent, hard work and the ability to seize the unexpected opportunities that presented themselves, Sakellis launched Otrera and began producing private label jewelry for companies such as Victoria’s Secret. Sakellis expanded her business and made a name for her company by designing and producing her signature evil eye scarf which has been worn by celebrities such as Alicia Keys and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Sakellis continues to evolve her dream through her consulting business that helps designers determine how they can produce their products.
“The universe gives you your path,” said Sakellis, and also provided a tip to others pursuing their dreams: “The most important thing for me is always to be talking about what you’re doing.”
Luncheon Keynote and Aristeon Award:
Following the morning session, keynote speaker Michael Psilakis discussed the road he followed to achieve his dream of being a highly accomplished chef. Although he was an accounting major in college and considered attending law school, a job in a restaurant showed him that food was his real passion. Psilakis stumbled into his current career one evening when the chef at the restaurant he owned did not show up for work. Out of necessity, he jumped into the kitchen and realized “it was home.”
He spoke to the audience about how important it was to pass on the essence of his Greek culture through his food, and encouraged conference attendees to use their particular talents, whatever they might be, to do likewise.
“I wanted to show the world that Greek food can, is and should be on the same level [as all other cuisines],” said Psilakis. Regarding the importance of passing on the Hellenic heritage, Psilakis noted, “We have to find ways to continue to perpetuate [our culture]…. We can use our art, our food to instill this same pride in our children that our parents instilled in us.”
This year’s conference organizing committee included: Dimitria Antonopoulos, Tina Ayiotis, Chrysoula Economopoulos, Theodora Hancock, Katherine K. Johnson, Ekaterini Malliou, Elaine Miller, Debbie Panagoulias, Vicki Reinhardt, and Sophia Varnasidis.
General information about HAWC is also available at http://www.hawcnet.org.