A Double Celebration: A Historic Reunion for Founders’ Day 2016

Pierce Alumnae celebrate their 70th graduation anniversary 

On March 22, Pierce – The American College of Greece celebrated Founders’ Day with a special event, in the context of the 140 years since its founding. In a festive and moving atmosphere, Pierce alumnae from as early as 1945 along with current students shared what Pierce means to them, while the orchestra Estudiantina transported the audience with its melodies. The second part of the celebration making this day truly special, was the reunion of Pierce alumnae who graduated in 1945, ’46, ’55, ’56, ’65, and ’66!

Olga E. Julius, Principal of Pierce, who has been serving the College for over 40 years, warmly welcomed the audience and introduced the speakers and guests. ACG President, Dr. David G. Horner, spoke of how the College is indebted to its founders: a debt of 140 years that can only be repaid by continuing to offer its students and the greater community all that the school’s founders once provided.

Dr. S. Sue Horner, Scholar in Residence in the field of Gender Studies and Religion, provided a historical and social context for the story of Maria A. West, the missionary who established the school in Smyrna. She added that a key component of Maria West’s vision for the advancement of women was to provide them with an education based on facts and character training, and not to change the students’ culture, but to advance their skills and ability to be useful to society.

Actress, writer and theater director Mimi Denisi, honorary guest and Pierce alumna, shared some of her most unforgettable school memories. “This theater that I stand in today, was where I took the first steps toward my acting career,” she said. “Today, I feel like I’ve returned to the embrace of my family… I learned to love this school through my mother’s memories of it, and now my daughter loves it through mine!”

Ms. Denisi presented historical evidence of the College’s establishment in Smyrna, some of them collected during several years of research, while writing her theater production, Smyrna, my Beloved. She recounted the parallel history of ACG and Smyrna, narrating the story of the pioneering Minnie Mills, a teacher who in September 1922 opened the College’s gates to 1,200 Armenians and Greeks to protect them from the fires, and who ultimately saved the lives of 89 girls.

A magical moment was when alumnae shared stories from their school years and what Pierce means to them. Journalist, Mary Papandreou-Karanassou, said that Pierce graduates, in all walks of life, are distinguished by the common values they share, and writer Polly Theofanidou-Miliori, said that “the school was a lighthouse in my life.” Mina Katsarelli, a graduate of 1947, who was applauded for her energetic presence, explained that, “After the war, nothing was a given. Pierce gave me the foundations of a democratic consciousness, it made me feel that I am an equal among equals.” Writer and illustrator Sofia Zarambouka shared her own story from 1951, when for the entrance exams to Pierce, rather than writing an essay like the rest of the girls, presented a drawing, and with it, a different way of thinking which the school rewarded by accepting her.

The event was also attended by award-winning alumna, Ourania Kli-Efraimoglou and actress Katia Dandoulaki who commented: “Today was one of the most moving moments I’ve experienced in years. It’s as if I graduated just yesterday… I wish I could be reborn just to come back to Pierce!”

Many testimonies followed, with graduates standing up among the audience and sharing the values that Pierce taught them: Diligence, honesty, freedom, confidence, and, above all, a sense of family, love, and a commitment to work for the collective good; “to serve, not to be served”, as is the motto of the American College of Greece.

Following the Founders’ Day ceremony, the alumnae of the years ’45, ’46, ’55, ’56, ’65, and ’66 who returned to their school to celebrate this special day, sat down together to catch up and reminisce over tea and cake. President Horner, Principal Julius, along with Dr. Dimitris Andreou, Vice President of Administration and Enrollment, welcomed the alumnae to their reunion, and shared with them some of the school’s most recent developments. Maria Laina, Executive Director of Development and Alumni Relations, an alumna herself, read a warm welcome from beloved teacher Elli Giotopoulou-Sisilianou who taught at Pierce from 1947 – 1963.

The atmosphere was very emotional, with over 110 graduates seeing each other again decades after their graduation, and sharing memories, news, and their love of their alma mater, Pierce.

140 years have passed since the College was established with only a handful of students in a small room in Smyrna. Today, many things have changed: its students have built a 54,000-strong alumni network, and its campuses hosts more than 4.800 students from 70 countries studying in the College’s three divisions – Pierce, Deree and ALBA. The school’s values, however, remain unchanged: to serve, not to be served.

Founders' Day & Pierce Reunion Classes of 45,46,55,56,65 & 66