In your travels across campus, maybe you’ve noticed the jumble of foreign characters engraved on the eastern wall of Bapst Library. Maybe you’re aware that that jumble reads, “Ever to Excel,” in the motto’s language of origin, Greek. Maybe your knowledge of the language extends only so far as the delta, zeta, and alphas that dominate your typical university social scene—Boston College being exempt from so. Maybe your usage of “Opa!” without the presence of any Greek blood borders sacrilege. Maybe not.
No matter your affiliation or experience with Greek culture, its presence within the American university system—particularly at Boston College—is undeniable. Borrowing from Greek greats, Boston College has built a university steeped in Western cultural tradition. Visit any department within the humanities and ask for a syllabus. You’d be hard-pressed to find one without the likes of Plato or Aristotle. Aside from the humanities, though, no one reveres the calls of the Greek tradition more than the Boston College Hellenic Society.
Founded in 1982 by a group of Greek American students, the Boston College Hellenic Society operates as an intercultural university organization that seeks to celebrate what Alumni Network Coordinator, Stavros Piperis, MCAS ’19, calls a “beautiful heritage.” Though the society hosts a number of on-campus events, most of which are accompanied by traditional Greek foods and music for dancing, their involvement extends into the Greater Boston Greek community. Many society members volunteer at the Philoxenia House in Brookline, which provides hospitality or “philoxenia” to Greeks who have travelled to Boston seeking medical treatment.
All of the BC Hellenes’ efforts promote the sense of community that has persisted throughout Greek history and that varies greatly from the strong yet stoic Irish community of which Bostonians are accustomed. The Hellenic Society’s latest effort to engage with fellow Greeks from far and wide came last Monday, April 3rd, when they hosted the first of three lectures as a part of their Greek American Lecture Series.
The lecture series was organized by Piperis in hopes of sharing with classmates and interested spectators alike the beauty as well as the strife of today’s Greek existence. “The Greek experience just over the past century has not been an easy one. World War II and the civil war that followed knocked the country down, but the stories of Greeks getting back up are inspiring and really illuminate the spirit of Hellenism,” says Piperis.
The story of Monday’s speaker begins on the tail end of the Greek Civil War as Truman’s America offers refuge from the tragedy wrought at home. Nicholas Gage—not to be confused with Nicholas Cage, which is a common mistake, according to the former war refugee—became Greek-American with the docking of a ship in New York’s harbor. Despite being educated, raising a family, and building a successful career in the U.S., Gage has never lost sight of his heritage or his home.
Gage’s most acclaimed work is that of his memoir, Eleni, named for his mother who was executed during the Greek Civil War. The book details his journey to uncover the truth behind his mother’s execution. As a New York Times investigative journalist who also helped to expose corruption within the Nixon Administration, Gage utilized his investigative capabilities to bare the brutalities within communist-occupied Greece. Though, he admits, “objectivity deserted me.” Nevertheless, Eleni was a smashing success, especially for the Greek community. Critically acclaimed, it went on to be translated into over thirty different languages.
Gage has written several other books, all of which celebrate the vibrancy of Greek heritage. In writing these tales of torture and triumph, Gage “tried to bear witness to what they [his characters] contributed to their Greek culture.”
The event garnered a good mix of BC students and visitors, mostly from the Greater Boston Greek community. The crowd was enthusiastic with their questions. Some expressed similar stories of loss and voyage. Piperis and the BC Hellenic Society were thrilled with the turnout.
“His work has really had an incredible impact on the Greek community, and it showed on Monday,” says Piperis. “It was a moving speech for anyone, like myself, whose ancestors’ lives were shaped by the wars.”
The lecture series will continue next Monday, April 10th with R. Nicholas Burns, former U.S. Ambassador to Greece and current professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. Then, former Governor of Massachusetts and Democratic Presidential Candidate, Michael Dukakis, will wrap up the lecture series on Wednesday, April 19th. If you wish to expand your Greek knowledge past the tau, beta, and omegas of the world and give the University roots its proper due, be sure to make room for the upcoming lectures in your schedule.