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24-09-2023 10:34

Address by the President of the Republic, Mr Nikos Christodoulides, at the Honor ceremony at Queens College, City University of New York, yesterday

23 September 2023

I am truly honored and moved to be back at Queens College, this time in a very different capacity. I wish to thank the President of Queens College, Frank Wu, and the Advisory Board of the Centre for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies for this invitation, that brings me back to my most formative years.

Mr President, it is a true honour to receive today the President's Medal, and one that feels me with gratitude. The granting of this honour by Queens College has a deep, personal meaning to me.

Queens College and the Centre for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies are very close to my heart; it is where I started my academic journey, where the seeds were planted that defined both my education and professional choices. I majored in Political Science, Economics, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, before graduating in 1997 and continuing with my postgraduate studies.

It is in these surroundings that as a young student I became acquainted and, very quickly, developed a fascination with academic life. As I made my way to this hall today, I have vivid memories of my professors, my fellow students, the ideas we studied, explored, debated.

I also vividly recall, coming from a small country thousands of miles away, the concern and the uncertainty of what my life would be at Queens College in New York. I also bring back to memory how quickly I felt at home, how quickly I felt reassured that I could make it. A defining factor for this, especially during the first, difficult steps, was the Centre for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies and its people. The founder, professor at the Department of Political Science and soul of the Centre, the late Harry Psomiades, and my very good friend Effie Lekas, with whom I worked as a college assistant. I am forever grateful to them.

In fact, the thread to my lifelong fascination – that verges perhaps on addiction - to the academic environment, to academic life and academia, can be traced back to my days here in Queens College.

I often wonder how a space and its people can have a transformative effect on an individual, how they can be the driving force for constantly striving to contribute and achieve more. That is precisely what this institution has generously offered to me and for this I am infinitely grateful. I also ponder on how my journey would unfold if I were in a place with less motivation and encouragement, without constant intellectual stimuli and how that would affect my future prospects.

It is a question I strive to pose myself constantly, previously in my capacity as an academic, Government Spokesman, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and now as President of Cyprus; how do we form and protect environments, that are characterized by positive incentives that prompt us to strive to become the best that we can be.

Queens College is part of the city that I also keep very close in my heart. I had the privilege to live and experience this magical city for five years, to have formed experiences that defined my future life, and relationships and friendships that will last for a lifetime. As an active member of the Cypriot American community, I was, and still consider myself to be, a part New Yorker, and a proud one at that.

In looking back to the experiences and knowledge I absorbed in some of my best years, here in Queens College, that have defined who I am today, I draw from the lessons and experiences of my younger self as I strive constantly, in my current capacity as President, to bring improvement and change for my country and its people.

Once again, thank you for hosting me and for the honor granted. Queens College will always be family.