Washington, D.C.- Commentary by Irene Zoupaniotis
As a recent political science graduate, taking part in PSEKAʼs 25th Annual Cyprus Conference for the second year in a row was not only an interesting occasion but also an opportunity to see if what we are taught in classrooms and learn from books is congruent with what really takes place in Washington. Furthermore, how much does the Conference engage the younger participants to want to eventually take an active leadership role in the fight for our communityʼs interests?
One of the great additions to the Conference this year was a special group organized by Endy Zemenides of all the younger participants. We were taken to Capitol Hill and given a tour and we were able to meet with younger members of Congress, like Congressman Zack Space and Congressman John Sarbanes. As we spoke to our Congressmen, as well as Mr. Zemenides, they explained to us the manner in which we should approach our members of Congress and how to go about requesting their assistance on issues that are of importance to us. This is essential for future participation of new, young members in PSEKA. By informing and involving young graduates in the inner workings of the political system they can be more confident in actively participating in lobbying for Greek issues. I observed this as the first step in training new members to make our membership larger and voices stronger, and eventually we will be the ones who will be informed and experienced enough to be leaders in this struggle.
Another positive moment in the Conference that engages the youth was the honoring of young and accomplished political leaders, New York State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris and Illinois State Treasurer, Alexi Giannoulias. To see the efforts and achievements of a younger civil servant being acknowledged and honored displays an appreciation of the hard work and determination carried out by an individual regardless of age. This compels and inspires the youth to actively carry out their civic duties and recognize that their efforts are not to be neglected and that they are not too young to achieve great things.
There are some points of the Conference however that have not changed from last year to this year that are negatively effecting the youth involvement. One of the main weak points is the long speeches and formalities that take place. These can not only become arduous, but it disillusions the youth into believing that the relationship between us and our Congressmen and Senators consist of niceties and not anything of real substance. If a young person cannot see concrete results, it discourages them from wanting to undertake the obstacle in the first place.
On the second day of the Conference, Mr. Andy Athens – President Emeritus of SAE and chairman of UHAC – and I had a brief exchange where he expressed his enthusiasm for seeing so many young people this year and that we are the ones who have to continue fighting hard for what we believe in because we cannot let our causes just disappear. The fervor and devotion that this man possesses, arguably one of the eldest from the entire PSEKA convention, represents the attitude that should exist in inter-generational interactions. His passion and loyalty to the cause is transferred to us through inspiring us. The torches must be gradually passed in order to keep the flames of our cause burning.