Oscar Winner Alexander Payne to Students: Ignore Your Parents!


For God’s sake, don’t listen to your parents when it comes to choosing a profession. This was Alexander Payne’s advice to the 40 outstanding Greek American college students, who were honored by the PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation at a special ceremony in Chicago last June.

“They love you so much, but they often mistake financial security as early as possible with happiness in life,” explained the two-time Oscar winning film director.

“They are not the same thing, not by a long shot. Earth, during the brief flash of life that God gives you and that you call your own, offers way too many spectacular possibilities than can be predicted, or worse, dictated by loving and well-intended Greek parents.”

Payne, 50, is a third-generation Greek American. Payne (born Konstantinos Alexandros Papadopoulos) was raised in Omaha, Nebraska, where his grandfather and parents Penny and George owned a Greek restaurant.

Addressing the students and the 450 guests, he described his own educational journey of how he ignored his parents’ wishes for him to become a lawyer and pursue his passion – filmmaking.

Payne, who has won Academy Awards for Sideways in 2004 and recently for Best Adapted Screenplay of The Descendants, was also honored by the Foundation. He received the prestigious Paradigm Award, which is given annually to a distinguished Greek American whose career and accomplishments exemplify the foundation’s mission of excellence and for being a role model to young scholars.

The event marked the Foundation’s first decade of publicly celebrating and applauding the academic excellence and accomplishments of Greek American college students. Like in other years, it distributed $250,000 in grants to the worthy students. Twenty five students received $10,000 grants and fifteen received $2500 awards.

All 40 recipients were inducted as members of the Foundation’s prestigious PanHellenic Honors Society, which now boasts 227 members. As members, they will be part of a network that will foster the spirit of Hellenism, promote leadership and stimulate a desire to render service.

“Pride, passion and promise… every one of the PanHellenic scholars has these three characteristics,” said Chris Tomaras, chairman of the Panhellenic Scholarship Foundation. “Pride in their Hellenic heritage and upbringing – passion for learning and seeking higher education – and the promise to succeed and contribute meaningfully to American society.”

Speaking on behalf of her fellow award recipients, Cleopatra Haviaras, a junior from CUNY Queens College with a major in History and Classics, thanked Tomaras and the Foundation. “I express my thanks to the Foundation and Mr. Tomaras for recognizing and awarding the students for their achievements,” she said. “They have bestowed upon us a most gracious award indeed, one that will enable us to move forward with our heads held high.”

In turn, Tomaras thanked the many supporters who helped the Foundation grant the annual scholarships that are worth a quarter of a million dollars. He also announced the Hellenic Birthright program that will take 15 students to Greece this summer. Created in collaboration with the American College of Thessaloniki, the Hellenic Birthright is a cultural enrichment and study abroad program for Greek American college students who have never been to Greece.

Tomaras also thanked the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for their continued support of the Foundation’s scholarship program and for their major contribution to the new Hellenic Birthright program.

As for the Foundation’s ambitious future plans, Tomaras said they want to establish scholarship programs that will support students throughout their four-year education, expand the scholarship program to graduate students and create educational and leadership programs that will engage and attract not only past scholarship recipients, but also other interested college students.

“These new goals are a considerable challenge for the PanHellenic Foundation, but they must be met,” said Tomaras. “To that end, we are exploring a number of initiatives including the establishment of an endowment fund. This is a major undertaking, one that will ensure the legacy of the Foundation lives on. Together, we will make these goals a reality.”


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