NEW YORK – The historic 65th graduation of The Cathedral School (THS), the day school of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Manhattan, was marked with a moving ceremony on June 8.
As the students and their friends and families waited in the Church lit with candles and the light of the setting sun, Archbishop Demetrios of American entered, walking down the center aisle escorted by Fr. John Vlahos, Cathedral Dean, and Theodore P. Kusulas, Head of the School.
During the reception in the undercroft that followed, the Archbishop said “we did not have Pomp and Circumstance,” the traditional processional music by Sir Edward Elgar, “we had joy and success,” a reference to both the achievements and prospects of the graduates and the future of the school following the first year of Kusulas’ tenure.
After the invocation two students, Nikiforos Papadopoulos and Manolis Lambrakis joined Head Chanter Athanasios Minetos in singing the hymn of Pentecost.
Of the graduates, Fr. Vlahos declared “we are exceedingly proud of them,” and told the guests “We thank each of you for your love and support of our school, where we hope we have offered the best education in the most pleasant and encouraging environment for them to grow as wonderful and dignified human beings. Hopefully many lasting friendships and connections that will lead into high school, college, and beyond.”
Pride overflowed the nave for a very gifted and promising graduating class that included Amanda Burch, who won the Presidential Award for Academic Achievement (PAAA), Nicholas Klederas (PAAA), Dwayne Lewis (PAAA), Kit Mattikow, Leander Moe, Presidential Award of Academic Excellence (PAAE), Comptroller’s Award of Service (CAS), Eleftheria Papadopoulos, (CAS), (PAAE), Panagiotis Persianis, Valedictorian (PAAE), and Kristen Saintilus (PAAA).
When he invited Panagiotis Persianis to make the valedictory address, Kusulas anticipated the humor that spiced the student’s address by quipping that while the former was accepted by the prestigious public Stuyvesant High School, he has chosen to spend his parents’ money,” at the renowned Horace Mann private school. The principal’s smile also reflected pride in a student he called “a truly gifted individual.”
With humor and passion, Persianis spoke of his experience at TCS – he spent the last two years there – beginning with an enumeration of “its extraordinary assets. The first is its community spirit.”
He remembered the warm welcome he received on first day of class from his news classmates and teachers “I never received such a warm welcome before.”
He praised the school’s first class teachers, all of whom he named, and told them “thank you very much for your incredible support.”
The valedictorian said he most appreciated the way he was challenged intellectually and was urged to care for others and the rest of society, and for the dedication of the Greek department, who made sure “we all speak and feel Greek.”
Persianis also highlighted the talents of his classmates, and noted that he also learned much from them, a sentiment echoed by Kusulas and validated by the Archbishop.
He praised his mother, called his father “the best dad in the world,” and said his sister was his biggest cheerleader.
The Direct Archdiocesan District Office of Education presents the Three Hierarchs Award of Excellence in Greek Language and Culture at area schools and teacher Elisavet Tsakou awarded it to Persianis, who was also given the Philoptochos Valedictorian Award, a cash prize, by Catherine Moutousis, Cathedral Philoptochos President, and Dr. Miranda Koufinas.
Each spring the Philoptochos luncheon raises $10,000 for TCS scholarships.
Kusulas introduced the salutatorian, Eleftheria Papadopoulos, who was one of two graduates who attended TCS since nursery school, and explained that her function is to greet and salute the graduating class.
Papadopoulos began her speech with a number: 14,000. That is her estimate of the number of hours – excluding extracurricular activities – she passed at TCS since nursery school, which she called her second home.
She knows every student in every class by name, so that the place where she was imbued with the love of the Greek language and Hellenic culture also became a second family.
The guests were touched when she cited her classmates individually and highlighted their talents, budding artists, scientists, musicians, mathematicians, athletes, and dancers, to name just some of their fields of endeavor where they can be expected to shine given the top high schools which will be lucky to have them as students.
She herself was presented the Parents’ Association Salutatorian Award by Bill Mihas and Live Diakolios, outgoing and newly elected presidents respectively.
Kusulas explained that as the new Head of School, he was inspired to create an award by that name, but he chose to call it the TCS Spirit Award for “the student that exemplifies the creative force and spirit that we have created here.”
The first winner was Kristenn Saintilus, “a young lady whose pride and perseverance” and love of learning were sparks that enabled her to meet her potential.
Archbishop Demetrios was very impressed with the ceremony and the students’ presentations. “These were not middle school quality speeches, nor even high school caliber, these were college level speeches,” he said, adding Persianos’ blending of serious themes and humor marked him as a fine speaker.
The Archbishop noted that “a good school replaces ignorance with knowledge,” and that TCS has helped the students build “a tremendous foundation with Hellenic traditions that go back at least 5000 years.”
He urged them to flee from the “ignorance is bliss” philosophy modern life tempts people with. “There is no such happiness,” he said, and challenged them to add to the world’s stock of knowledge.
“Getting knowledge and wisdom might be painful. It necessities work and long hours, and the omission of the easy pleasures of life, but there is no reward equal to the reward of the knowledge and wisdom imparted by God to the people who look for it.”
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