By Mary Sinanidis.
Greek Consul General in Melbourne Emmanuel Kakavelakis took the Greek Centre’s stage and addressed Year 12 students present to receive VCE awards on Tuesday, December 19. Rather than focus on achievements, he touched on the significance of values and the importance of honouring our heritage and language.
“For Greeks growing up here, it is necessary to love both your countries. Love Greece, love Australia, and love the entire world; all the places where you will become what you are,” Mr Kakavelakis said, addressing third and fourth generation Greek Australians in the Greek language.
“By improving your Greek, you will understand more and more, and you will become fluent. And don’t forget the more you know how to speak Greek, the easier it will be to speak more Greek.”
Intermingled amidst his meaningful message were doses of humour about the ‘coolness’ of being Greek and an invitation for boys to join the Greek army.
The intensity of his speech may have been lost on speakers with just a rudimentary knowledge of the language. Mr Kakavelakis told The Greek Herald he understands they may not have caught all the words but is certain they managed to get the gist. At least, they laughed in all the right places.
He added that he sees more young people than ever before embracing their culture.
“Unfortunately, it comes at a time when Greece isn’t at its most robust,” he laments, hoping that this flicker of interest can somehow be fanned.
For the young students present, understanding an orator of such eloquence was a success unto itself. Cousins Cherie and Anna Katsoulis told The Greek Herald that having studied VCE Greek, they understood most of the speech.
“I did wonder if others did,” Cherrie pondered.
The GCM President, Bill Papastergiadis, OAM, also spoke and encouraged students to continue pursuing excellence and emphasising the importance of education in shaping a brighter future.
“You are the ambassadors of Hellenic excellence, our future educators, you are the future of the Greek community. You are the people that will drive change and continue to regenerate our community, and contribute to this great multicultural city that we live in. Become a citizen of the world,” Mr Papastergiadis said.
Starting, stopping and starting again
Arthur Georgakakis, who hopes to do an undergraduate degree on cybersecurity (amongst other dreams), said he valued Mr Kakavelakis’ advice on protecting our digital privacy. The fact that he even picked up on that point was due to his efforts to learn the language at the eleventh hour of his student life.
“I hated Greek when I was younger. I couldn’t see the point of it as we live in Australia. My friends would make fun of me for going to Greek school,” he told The Greek Herald.
He went to bed one night praying for God’s guidance to choose the right VCE subjects and woke up with an epiphany – he would study Modern Greek.
“I got a raw score of 41 which is good bearing in mind that I only got back into it in Year 11. But thanks to the help of the Community Schools and their facilities, I managed to get this great result,” he said.
Like Arthur, Nektaria Toscas kept starting and stopping Greek lessons. It was her love for history that eventually fuelled her desire to learn.
“The more I study Greek, there comes another layer of my history that I want to look into,” she said, adding that it is “a very personal subject that gives you a feeling that you wouldn’t get doing your other VCE subjects.”
Engineering hopeful Timothy Karalis and Michael Scopis, who wants to study Law, said that their grandparents played a major role in their choice to take VCE Greek.
“Every Monday night, I went to the Community’s Balwyn campus to study Greek. It was a tough year, but I improved the most because I put in the most effort,” Timothy said.
Michael said, “I wanted to make my yiayiades and my community proud, and to be part of this great community. I love their support.”
Entire families accompanied the award winners. Year 11 student George Vasiliadis, who got a 50 in Biology and 40 in Greek, was there with his parents and sister. George’s father told The Greek Herald he and his wife made a conscious effort to speak Greek at home.
“When George went to English school, he didn’t know a word of English. We shared what we knew as much as we could,” he said.
Victoria’s top scorer Alexander Petro Georgiou achieved a remarkable 99.95 and was offered a ticket to Greece. He said the first thing he will do upon setting foot at the University of Melbourne is to join the Greek Club.
“It [the VCE Award] has motivated me to learn the Greek language and get more in touch with my heritage and the Greek community,” he said, adding that the last time he studied Greek was when he was aged five.
Like Alexander, Sam Mirvis said he did not take up Greek as a VCE subject.
“It is not worth the scaling. For instance, Latin scales 17, French scales 11 and Greek scales 1. As a VCE subject, it is not a strategic choice and it is also very competitive,” he said.
Chris Aravatzis, who stopped studying Greek at the age of 10, agrees with this.
“I didn’t pick it up as a VCE subject because I was worried it would bring my marks down. But I hope to learn it,” he said.
Tara Metaxas learnt German and Indonesian at school, simply because it was offered.
“Greek language was not offered at my school and so I didn’t have the opportunity to learn it, otherwise I would have selected it,” she said, adding she neither speaks Greek nor North Macedonian, the language of her parents.
George Stergiopoulos attended the awards with Ping, his Chinese mother.
“I could not understand the Consul General’s speech because I was raised speaking and studying Chinese,” he said.
Thankfully, George Emmanuel had his mother translating the Consul General’s speech in his ear.
“I was just going along with it and laughing at the jokes. Mum told me about the army,” he said.
On the other end of the spectrum, Sofia Linardou has only been in Australia for three years and matriculated with 99.2.
“My parents said I didn’t have to study Greek as I could already speak it, but I still wanted to study it because I felt it was important to stay connected,” she said, adding that she found the Australian education system more relaxed and enjoyed the opportunity to select some of her subjects in Year 10.
Despite the opportunities here, she misses Greece and hopes to return.
“Greece is still my final destination,” she said. Her Year 11 sister Georgia, also holding a Certificate of Excellence, agrees.
Regardless of whether the awards were for top grades in the sciences, humanities or languages other than Greek, the desire to visit Greece, to strengthen the connection were palpable in the room.
*All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.