Peter Tsantes, the treasurer of the New York chapter of the American Foundation for Greek Language and Culture (AFGLC), along with Despina, his wife, and their children Vasilios and Sophia, donated $100,000 to strengthen the Hellenic studies program at Stony Brook University. The gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Simons Foundation Challenge Grant, providing a total impact of $200,000.
Tsantes is passionate about celebrating Greek language, culture and promoting an understanding of the impact Hellenism has had on western civilization, from the concept of democracy to philosophy to architecture. He believes that universities can play an important role in teaching young people about the Hellenic roots of society. He said the gift is an expression of immense appreciation for Aikaterini Batouyious and her family, who first brought him to the United States in 1951; it has also been given in memory of his parents, Sophia and Vasilios Tsantes, who gave him life.
“You work hard and you make some money and you think about giving back out of respect for the ones who helped you along the way,” said Tsantes. “A chair at Stony Brook University will advance Hellenic learning and culture, which is everywhere. I hope a Hellenic studies program at Stony Brook will attract students who want to expand their understanding.”
When Tsantes first came to the United States, he was amazed to see the influence of Hellenic culture everywhere he went. “When I learned English, I found Hellenism embedded in the language,” said Tsantes. “When I gazed at the United States Capitol Building, I saw the depiction of the goddess Athena; when I read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, I saw Greek ideas,” he added. “I am connected very powerfully to this beautiful nation, and I thought if I ever had the means to do so, perhaps I could contribute something to its greatness.”
“This generous gift from the Tsantes family will help us showcase the rich academic, artistic, athletic, and professional traditions of Greece, as well as Greek-American history,” said Dennis N. Assanis, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Stony Brook University. “This gift will not only help Stony Brook to further develop curricula and programs that will stimulate additional interest in Greek culture, literature and heritage, but will also help the University advance its efforts with other ethnological and educational organizations for the promotion of cross-cultural studies.”
Stella Tsirka, Professor of Pharmacology at Stony Brook University, who serves as president of the AFGLC, has added to Tsantes’ gift with a gift of her own. Professor Tsirka and Mr. Tsantes have been discussing ideas for Hellenic programs at Stony Brook for more than two years. Their gifts, along with one from Nancy Squires, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook, may help the University form a minor in Hellenic studies along with welcoming a chair who would develop activities to benefit students and the surrounding community. “The person who would hold the chair would be a focal point for both scholarly and cultural Hellenic activities at Stony Brook University and in the community – perhaps including activities that celebrate Greek Americans and their contributions,” said Tsirka.