High School Graduation Address
By His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
At the Saint Demetrios Preparatory School
Astoria, New York
June 9, 2023
Dear Fathers, Trustees, Administration and Faculty of the School,
And most important of all, Graduates and Families of the Class of 2023.
I am delighted to be at this wonderful school again in order to attend your commencement exercises. All of you – students, parents, teachers and administrators – should be very proud. The Greek Orthodox Parochial Schools of our Sacred Archdiocese are very important educational and formational institutions for our youth. We must do all that we can to support and enhance these invaluable programs for the overall benefit and academic excellence of our children.
This task, of course, is one of my highest priorities as Archbishop, and I must assure all of you that I do not take the responsibility lightly at all. This is why we have begun implementing specific measures, so that we can continue elevating this extraordinary school and historic parish of Saint Demetrios in Astoria, because you constitute the very center and heartbeat of our Hellenic-Orthodox community in the United States.
The recently appointed Proistamenos of this cathedral, the Reverend Protopresbyter Anargyros Stavropoulos, has already brought a great sense of focus and love to the parish and school community. Together with the new School Board Co-Chairs, George Masouridis and Kosta Soukeris, as well as with the recently appointed Provost, the Reverend Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Throne Gregorios Stamkopoulos, there will be significant administrative advancements for the betterment of this Parochial school.
For it is our collective aim to inspire our youth and provide them with the necessary tools to be successful in every stage of their lives. And this is something that begins with a healthy and dynamic educational system. Therefore, both the institution itself – meaning the school – and its students must be in harmony with each other, as they are a reflection of one another.
Our Greek-American community has always valued the importance of education, as well as the necessity of preserving the Greek language, our cultural heritage and our spiritual roots. And this is what we seek to strengthen, support and reinforce with creative initiatives that will benefit you – our precious students – and bring peace of mind to your parents, who have entrusted your spiritual and educational formation to us.
As the graduates of 2023, you now embark upon a journey to a destination that is still unknown. However, this is the nature of life. We make our way in the world, but not always with the clarity we wish we had. And this is precisely why education is truly a lifelong enterprise.
As we move forward in life, we learn to pivot and re-adjust our goals. As the great Philosopher and Mystic Heraclitus says:
πάντα ῥεῖ - everything flows … and
Δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης.
Υοu cannot step into the same river twice. [*]
Like the movement of time itself, change is always taking place. It is our ability, our willingness, and our dexterity to face the inevitable transitions of life that define us. As you prepare to enjoy your summer and look forward to what is coming next, I would like to leave you with some parting words of counsel that I hope you will take to heart.
We are living in a world of increasing polarization, tension, and even, outright animosity. Civil discourse seems to have decreased in the public square, since the revolution of social media. Everyone’s skin is a little bit thinner. We are fast becoming a culture of grievance, and across America, serious questions are being asked about where our country is headed.
In the midst of all this noise, I counsel all of you to safeguard a quiet space within your hearts and minds for reflection on the course of your lives. Even our Lord Jesus Christ withdrew from His disciples and the crowds from time to time; He went into the desert places to be alone and to pray.[†] If the Lord Himself needed time alone to reflect, meditate, and pray, how much more for all of us!
And in these moments of reflection, I also counsel you to appreciate your daily impact in the world. You may have heard of this theory called, “the butterfly effect.” Simply stated, it says that the slightest action in the world can have an infinitely great consequence. And we know that this is true in our own lives.
When you’re having a bad day, and a perfect stranger smiles at you, or holds a door open for you, or someone simply and pleasantly says, “Καλή σου ᾽μέρα.” So often, the smallest, the most infinitesimal acts of kindness – actions based in grace – have the most impact on us, because they re-frame our mindset toward goodness. We then can offer that same grace to others, without feeling that we are losing or being deprived of anything. It is truly amazing what can happen in our relationships, when generosity and friendliness are practiced. It is then, as Scripture says, that we know the truth; that it is truly more blesséd to give than to receive.[‡]
As you pursue your dreams and goals, do not lose sight of this “butterfly effect” in your day-to-day experiences. Like sound waves that never truly disappear when we can no longer hear them, our thoughts, words, and actions have consequences. They go on with their ramifications, even in eternity. The Lord once counseled His Disciples:
There is nothing that is covered that will not be revealed, nothing hidden that will not be made known. Everything you have talked about in the darkness, will be heard in the light! And whatever you have whispered in the innermost chambers, will be preached from the housetops! [§]
This is not so much an admonition as it is a reminder that everything we do, we think, and we speak has weight. It counts, because it influences our own perspectives, as well as those around us. Our lives can be for good or for ill, and we are – for better or worse – the authors of our own story.
Therefore, on this day of celebration and new beginnings, I encourage you to take advantage of all the benefits and blessings of your Greek Orthodox education and faith. Let it ground you in a positive and healthful mindset. Your φρόνημα can be oriented in any direction. So keep it pointed in the direction of love, compassion, empathy, altruism and grace.
As I look into your faces, shining with eagerness and expectation, I am filled with much hope for the future. For you are the generation that will build the future of our world. I pray that your foundations are firm and secure in the knowledge and love of God.
Your journey is just beginning, and it’s going to be an exciting one. May our Merciful and Loving God always guide and protect you throughout your lives, through the intercessions of the Holy Great Martyr and Myrrh-Streamer Demetrios – your beloved Heavenly Patron – and all the Saints. Amen.