New York.- By Catherine Tsounis
Photos: Dimitrios Panagos
In 2020, Greek words are in multiple languages. 80 percent of scientific terms have a Greek root. Greece and Cyprus who are in the European Union have Greek as their official language. Greek has a documented history spanning 34 centuries. Greek is the basis of Western civilization. February 9th, 2020 , was the International Greek Language Day.
The day was celebrated in New Yok City with the 2019 Ellinomatheia Certificates Presentation at the “Petros G. Patrides” cultural center of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Astoria. Over 525 persons attended. Students were honored who completed the requirements. Hundreds of Greek Americans were honored for passing the rigorous exam. They came from the Greek communities of New York and New Jersey. Parents and grandparents had big smiles and inner joy that Greek language will live on in the next generation. This day was the crowning achievement of the Greek American student. They learned Greek at the hands of dedicated educators, who did not inject politics into their lesson plans up to 2019. This curriculum, that saved Greeks during 400 years of slavery to the Ottomans, must continue in 2020. In the background of the “Petros G. Patrides” culture center are huge murals that symbolize Greek civilization: the Parthenon in Athens, Greece and Hagia Sophia of Constantinople (present day Istanbul, Turkey).
“Certificates are issued for successful candidates at the any of the following six levels of attainment in Greek: Al (Al for children 8-12 years old, and Al for adolescents and adults), A2, Bl, B2, l~l and T2. The levels are linked to the corresponding levels of the Common European Framework (CEFR). All the four language skills – comprehension of oral and written communication, production of oral and written communication – are examined at each level.
High schools may recognize the Ellinomatheia certificate as valid proof of language proficiency. However, various districts and schools may choose NOT to accept the certification in the place of taking a foreign language in High School. Students may also be eligible, upon passing the A2 Ellinomatheia exam to receive a Globally Educated High School Diploma endorsement. Final decision on the above mentioned recognitions are subject to each school district and policy. Colleges and universities may also accept the Ellinomatheia certificate, however each has its own governing policies and procedures.”1
An exceptional program of culture and music entertained all. Mr. Konstantinos Koutras, Consul General of Greece in New York City, hosted the event. Prominent persons who attended included: Archimandrite Nektarios Papazafiropoulos, Dean of St. Demetrios Cathedral of Astoria; Greece’s Deputy Minister of Diaspora Greeks Dr. Constantinos Vlassis: Consulate General of Greece in New York Constantinos Koutras: Consul General of Cyprus, Mr. Alexis Phedonos; Director of Greek Education Dr. Anastasios Koularmanis and prominent persons of the education and business communities.
“February 9th is the Universal Day of Greek Language that is a lantern for the world,” said Minister Vlassis. “ I feel more Greek outside the geographic Greece. I would like to recognize the national and international efforts of Dr. George Tsioulias, an Arcadian from my province, who has aided in the preservation of the Greek language and in the medicine of Greece.” Consul General Koutros said “Dr. Tsioulias has contributed to Greek Learning in the United States.”
“ We are working to promote St. Demetrios School system,” said Dr. Tsioulias. ““We must teach, reach and motivate Greek American children, one needs to understand their environment, the school systems they attend, their own culture, traditions and habits. Teachers of the Greek language must integrate modern technology, such as the internet in their classroom, as well as use the language of the students for motivation. Grandparents, Parents and families must play a significant role in inspiring the students to learn Greek language and culture. Culture activities such as theater, dance, music and visits to Greece can help curb the dropout rate of Greek students from the Greek schools.” Dr. George John Tsioulias, former President of the Hellenic Medical Society of New York, believes the viability and future of the Greek Diaspora heavily relies on the activities of its professional societies. A major advocate of Greek-American education, Dr. Tsioulias has shaped generations through his work at St. Demetrios Greek-American School in Astoria, New York.
I have heard Greek sermons of Archimandrite Nektarios Papazafiropoulos , Dean of St. Demetrios Cathedral of Astoria. His Greek is perfect. I thought he was a recent immigrant from Greece. As it turns out, he was born in Astoria. Regardless of left, right or middle of the road political affiliation, a person must admit that the Greek language is being kept alive in our Greek American education system. Director of Greek Education Anastasios Koularmanis is not an immigrant. He is born in New York City and gives outstanding Greek presentations. What Is Unsaid Is Understood.
Helen Karagiorgos, Acting Principal of St. Demetrios Preparatory School, said “many of our students are from families where a parent is not Greek. They speak Greek and passed with competence the 2019 Ellinomatheia exams.” Mrs. Metaxia Liza, Acting Coordinator for Educational Affairs of the NYC Greek Consulate explained “Ellinomatheia 2020 exams will take place on May 18th-20th, 2020. Registration commences on February 1, 2020. For more information, visit our website http://www.gr-edu.org/home.html.”
Throughout the program, the concerns of speakers were the perpetuation of the Diaspora Greek communities of the United States. Most of my family immigrated to the United States before 1912 when Chios and Limnos were part of the Ottoman Empire. Others immigrated during the Asia Minor Catastrophe from Tseme in the early 1920”s. Two factors shaped the lack of assimilation of Greek American communities into the American culure: 1939 WWII Greece victory and the marriage Jacqueline Kennedy to Aristotle Onassis in 1968. As Winston Churchill said, “Hence, we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.” 2 That prevented assimilation. Pride we were Greeks in the United States was seen everywhere because Greeks from the Motherland acted with courage, self-sacrifice and honor for Democracy and not totalitarianism or Communism. The 1968 Greek Orthodox marriage ceremony of Jacqueline Kennedy to Aristotle Onassis in a Greek Orthodox ceremony, seen on major TV channels, shocked the world. We saw on CBS and NBC channels a fast clip of Jacqueline Onassis and Aristotle Onassis wearing crowns as they sealed their union in the “Dance of Isaiah” Byzantine wedding service. Our communities and Greek Orthodox Church images were elevated to a superior place in world politics, that no one ever envisioned. We look to 2020 Greece to act with courage and honor so that we will be proud to say, “We are Greek-Americans.”