Fifty years strong: Celebrating the enduring legacy of Modern Greek at Sydney University

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The Department of Modern Greek at the University of Sydney marks its milestone 50th anniversary this year and to celebrate, more than 100 past and current students and lecturers filled the Chau Chak Wing Museum on Sunday, April 14 for a special event.

Organised as part of this year’s Greek Festival of Sydney, the event showcased the importance of Greek language and culture in Australia’s multicultural fabric and academic landscape.

Being a significant occasion, the celebration was attended by a number of official guests including the Consul General of Greece in Sydney, Yannis Mallikourtis, and the Chair of the Greek Festival of Sydney, Nia Karteris. Both were asked by emcee Sophia Komarkowski to give a small speech to kick off the official proceedings.

In her speech, Ms Karteris thanked everyone for attending and congratulated the Modern Greek Department and its staff for championing the Greek language at the University of Sydney and in Australia more broadly. She also said the Greek Orthodox Community of New South Wales was committed to promoting the Greek language and its culture.

The Consul General spoke of the Greek government’s financial and educational support to the Department prior to Greece’s financial crisis, and said he would be “at the disposal of the teaching staff at the university” to see how this support could be revived for the future.

Following these addresses, a panel of distinguished academics and past students from the Department of Modern Greek gave their thoughts on its enduring legacy.

The panel consisted of Professor Vrasidas Karalis, Sir Nicholas Laurantus Professor of Modern Greek and Byzantine Studies at the University of Sydney; Associate Professor Anthony Dracopoulos, Chair, Discipline of Modern Greek and Byzantine Studies, School of Languages and Cultures; Dr Alfred Vincent, Honorary Research Associate, University of Sydney; Dr Panayota Nazou, former member (and Chairperson) of academic and educational committees at the University of Sydney; and former students Andrew Thanos and Joyce Kolevris.

First to speak was Dr Vincent, a founding member of the Department of Modern Greek. Dr Vincent spoke about the 50-year history of the Department, how it was established with a generous donation from Sir Nicolas Laurantus, and spoke about the first Chair of the Department Dr Michael Jeffries and his contribution.

Dr Vincent also touched on the declining interest in language studies in Australia and said it was time to think of new approaches to encourage people to study Greek, such as through book festivals and scholarships to study at a Greek university overseas.

Dr Nazou spoke about her personal experience teaching at the university for more than 40 years and said despite the challenges she faced, she would never change her chosen profession. The academic was also critical of how the university had treated funding designated for the Department of Modern Greek.

To break away from the academic side of the Department, two former students spoke next – Mr Thanos and Ms Kolevris.

Mr Thanos stressed that the establishment of the Department of Modern Greek at Sydney University “ignited a cultural renaissance that transcended generations and communities, leaving an enduring legacy that continues to shape the landscape of Modern Greek Studies in our country.”

For her part, Greek-born student Ms Kolevris said choosing to study Greek at Sydney University was “one of the best decisions” she ever made, highlighting the numerous learning opportunities and supportive guidance from teaching staff. She also stressed it is now up to the younger generation to ensure the Greek language survives.

“Thank you for everything you have done for your students,” Ms Kolveris said to academics in attendance. “If we’re able to give back a fraction of what you have given us, we will all be very privileged. It is up to us to continue supporting Greek studies, whether you’re a beginner, native speaker or somewhere in between, there is something for everyone.”

The last two speakers to give an address were current lecturers at the Department of Modern Greek – Dr Dracopoulos and Professor Karalis.

Dr Dracopoulos spoke proudly of the many successful initiatives of the Department of Modern Greek and its significant contribution to university life through courses not just on the Greek language but also Greek history and culture.

“I am confident that Sir Nicholas Laurantus would be very proud with what we have achieved so far,” the Associate Professor said, while adding that the community needs to continue working hard to make Modern Greek financially self-sufficient.

The last to speak was Professor Karalis and he drew loud laughter from the crowd as he shared personal anecdotes with his colleagues from his time teaching Greek at the University of Sydney. Whilst touching on the current challenges that face the Greek language in Australia, Professor Karalis also provided hope for the future.

“I feel the love for Greek and Greek studies should be something that unites us all, and the love of Greek is that which makes me optimistic for the future,” he said.

“We will survive and we will triumph. We will never lose because we love what we are doing. We are continuing a tradition that goes back 3,000 years. The chain will not be cut. The continuity will go on and you [the youth in the room] will be responsible.”

At the conclusion of these official proceedings, Ms Karteris presented speakers with flowers from Mr Roses, before a 50th anniversary cake was cut. Everyone spent the rest of the afternoon mingling and reminiscing about their past at the university.

*All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Andriana Simos.

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