Good evening, and thank you, Artemis, for that kind introduction.
Minister Fotakis, Artemis, members of the Fulbright Board and staff, Fulbright scholars and students, family members of students, distinguished guests, it is my pleasure to welcome you here to the Jefferson House to celebrate both a great program and all those who support and participate in it.
I especially want to thank you, Artemis, and your dedicated colleagues at the Fulbright Foundation, who make this program such a great success year in and year out. In academic year 2015-16 Fulbright is supporting 33 Greeks to go to the United States and 33 Americans who will come here. For the Greeks in the United States, programs range from six-week summer programs to PhD studies, while the Americans here generally stay between six and ten months. Tonight we say goodbye to 17 out of the 24 Americans who are finishing up their programs in the recently ended academic year.
The Fulbright program in Greece is the oldest in Europe and the second oldest in the world. U.S. Senator William Fulbright led the effort to create the program as a way to promote U.S. culture, education, and policies around the world during the Cold War. Since 1948, over 5,000 people from Greece and the United States have studied in the two countries through Fulbright. At a recent event hosted by the Athens branch of the American College of Surgeons, I met a retired doctor who had studied medicine in the United States in the early 1950s as a Fulbright grantee. Meeting one of Greece’s first Fulbright scholars gave me first-hand insight into the long impact of this important program.
Today we are marking the departure of the 2015-16 class of Greek Fulbrighters to the United States, and the end of the year for the 2014-15 class of American scholars and students here. Although Fulbright no longer funds medical studies, we have people from fields as diverse as: journalism, education, economics, public health, social entrepreneurship, and film and media production. The Greek program is one of 155 around the world offering educational opportunities to students and scholars.
The competition for these scholarships is intense. In their respective countries, students and scholars go through serious vetting from a panel of subject experts and – in Greece – Embassy officials. To give you an idea of the competition, this year we had more than 1,000 inquiries and applications by Greeks for Fulbright scholarships and awarded 33 grants.
The Fulbright program, while venerable, has changed with the times. For example, it has expanded to include programs for high school teachers and other specialties. In a short while, we’ll hear from a high school teacher from Kavala who participated in a six-week exchange program on American democracy and citizenship last summer in Montana.
The Fulbright Foundation in Greece is also the “brand ambassador” for higher education in the United States. Fulbright staff and educational advisor Nikos Tourides (too-RHEE-dees), who is with us tonight, advises over 10,000 students per year around Greece. Even during a time of hardship in Greece, when the cost of a U.S. education has never been higher, we’ve seen an increase in the number of Greeks interested in studying in the U.S. and in those who actually wind up going.
At this point, I’d also like to express my gratitude to Fulbright educational advisor Dimitris Doutis (DOO-tees), who staffed the Foundation’s office in Thessaloniki for more than 30 years until its official closing in December 2014. Dimitri – it’s lovely to have you and your wife with us tonight and thank you for the excellent services you have provided to thousands of students in northern Greece throughout your career. You will be missed.
A key part of the Fulbright grant is the requirement that recipients come back to their country for two years after completing their program. This ensures that the knowledge and insights gained during the U.S. experience can be replicated in the grantees’ host countries upon return. In Greece, scholars and students who have been supported by Fulbright have made a big impact on society.
Notable alumni include:
- George Stathakis, current Minister of Economy, Infrastructure, Merchant Marine and Tourism;
- Eleni Antoniadi, expert in bioengineering, who has received recognition from the scientific community worldwide for her involvement in life-saving therapies for artificial organ transplants;
- Michalis Psalidopoulos, Greece’s new representative at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and professor of economics;
- Dimitris Papaioannou, choreographer and artistic director of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games;
- Katerina Koskina, Director of the State Museum of Contemporary Art.
There are also countless other Fulbright alumni working in small or medium-sized businesses, non-governmental organizations, schools and research institutions who may be less known to the general audience, but nevertheless have a significant impact on the world we live in.
Let me finish by saying, to all the Greek and American scholars and students, congratulations!
Σας ευχαριστώ και πάλι που ήρθατε απόψε….. να’στε όλοι καλά!