How we met the President of Greece*
People often ask me how my Dialogue of Civilizations program: Greece: Then and Now, has managed to meet the President of Greece for the past two years. The President, Mr. Prokopis Pavlopoulos has been kind enough to host us in the Presidential Palace, present the students with a gift, and speak to us about the importance of international education and the Dialogues of Civilizations program at Northeastern University. The way this invitation came about is a long story, but I will tell it in shorthand.
I have been going to Greece since 1994, doing lectures on American politics. In 2003 and again in 2004, I received Fulbright scholarships to teach at the University of Athens and continue my lecture series, this time focusing on American Presidential politics. My host at the university was Dr. Evangelos Sorogas, and he and I became good friends, often spending long evenings in Athens discussing politics and reminiscing about Evangelos’ eleven years in Chicago, my hometown, and the place where he did his studies in Communication.
Mr. Pavlopoulos was at the time a law professor at the university and a close colleague of Dr. Sorogas. The two had become friends many years earlier, both having distinguished careers in academia and in the public life of Athens. In 2005, I started the Dialogue of Civilizations program to Greece, thanks to the urging of my colleague, Denis Sullivan. The Dialogue became very popular, often with double the number of applicants I could accommodate on the program. Evangelos became my liaison in Athens, helping me develop the program, lining up top scholars to speak to the students about Greece, and generally smoothing our path through this legendary land.
In 2015, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Dialogue. Evangelos was still with me, although because of his retirement, he was playing a smaller role. Nevertheless, he appreciated what the Dialogue had become: a “travelers” not a “tourist” program of in-depth immersion into Greek culture. The lectures that he and I envisioned in 2005 had become the centerpiece of the Dialogue with nine of them integrated seamlessly into one month of guided tours of antiquities, and intimate meetings with the people of Greece so that we could understand their journey from the 21st century BCE Bronze Age of the Minoans to the 21st century AD and the economic and immigration crises that have descended upon Greece like a London fog. Evangelos felt that ten years of bringing Northeastern students to Greece on those terms deserved some recognition.
He called his good friend, Prokopis, and told him what we had accomplished in ten short years. The President was delighted to hear about our Dialogue. It was extraordinary, he thought, that people were coming to Greece to learn about the age old Greek culture instead of simply traveling to Santorini and Mykonos to watch the sunset and sip wine and ouzo. They worked out the details of a reception at the spectacular Presidential Palace that once housed the King and Queen of Greece in the 19th century. The planning went smoothly, despite the economic and political crisis in 2015. Then, one morning in August there we were: 27 students and me, standing in the ballroom listening to and then speaking with the President of Greece.
And what did he speak of? He spoke about Northeastern University as a leader in the field of international education. He was lavish in his praise of the Dialogue of Civilizations program saying that this program keeps alive the bright light of democracy that Greece once shed upon humanity. The students and I were extremely proud of our university at that moment, as proud as we were surprised that the President of Greece knew so much about it. And the reception went so successfully that Evangelos, Prokopis, and I decided to do it again in 2016. And on August 5, 2016, we were again in the Presidential Palace, listening to and getting to know the President of Greece.
So that, in a nutshell, is how we met the President of Greece. And how we hope those receptions will continue in the future.
*Greece is actually The Hellenic Republic, but is known as Greece around the world.
Written by Professor Richard Katula, Professor of Communications