Eleni Kounalakis was sworn into office as lieutenant governor of California on Monday, becoming the first woman ever elected to the post.
In her speech made after she was sworn in, the first-generation Greek-American said that there is no issue more important than education.
Her grandmother, Katerina, never learned how to read or write. Her father, Angelo Tsakopoulos, came to the United States from Greece at 14 years of age. He had little money, and no English-speaking skills, but went on to become a prominent and wealthy Sacramento real estate developer.
“The path to wisdom is through education,” Kounalakis said. “This is very personal to me.”
Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, praised the voters for electing Kounalakis, calling her a “champion of children”, and saying Kounalakis’ success is “the story of the American dream.”
Elected for a maximum of two four-year terms, the lieutenant governor sits on, or appoints representatives to, many of California’s regulatory bodies.
Kounalakis has pursued a successful business and political career in California, including being appointed as U.S. ambassador to Hungary by President Barack Obama in 2010. In an exclusive interview with the Greek Reporter before her election, she spoke of her Greek heritage.
“As Greek-Americans, the culture that founded democracy in ancient Greece so many thousands of years ago, we know you have to have an invested citizenship, that everybody needs to be able to work hard and earn a piece of the pie,” stated the mother of two.