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Bridging Boundaries and Changing Lives Through Education

On April 4, 2023, members of the ACG community, US Ambassador to Greece George J. Tsunis, Ukrainian Ambassador to Greece Sergii Shutenko, Mayor of Aghia Paraskevi, Vasilis Zorbas, and ACG President, Dr. David G. Horner, gathered at the ACG Events Hall to celebrate the sixth year of “Education Unites 2023.” This collaborative scholarship program offers fully-funded scholarships to refugee students in financial need to obtain undergraduate and graduate degrees at Deree and was established through ACG’s partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Athens.

ACG is rooted in a long commitment to educating refugees to create a better future for all, especially those most in need of pursuing their dreams. Our support for young people displaced by war and geopolitical instability traces to our founding 150 years ago as a school for refugee girls in Smyrna. Under the Education Unites program, ACG has welcomed over 200 refugee students from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, parts of the Middle East, as well as many countries in Africa and, more recently, Ukraine.

Alison Townley, ACG Vice President of Advancement, opened the celebratory event and introduced Dr. Horner, who reflected on ACG’s historical support of refugees:

The American College of Greece was founded in 1875 in Smyrna as a school for Greek, Armenian and Turkish girls. Our school became an institutional refugee as a result of the Smyrna Catastrophe; we have never forgotten that we were once refugees in need of welcome and support 100 years ago when we relocated to Greece. In 2016, Education Unites was established in partnership with the US Embassy in Athens to address the challenges of an influx of refugees to Greece since, at that time, only 1-3% of refugees had access to higher education. This year, again in partnership with the US Embassy, Education Unites expanded to include 20 Ukrainian students in addition to the students we already enrolled from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and several countries in Africa. Providing a transformative educational experience has been our mission for almost 150 years, and, given our history, the education of refugee, migrant and displaced students is a particularly compelling priority.

Ambassador Tsunis gave an inspirational speech on the importance of access to education for young people since it opens a world of opportunities for them. He stated that educating someone is bringing the [refugee] student out of the shadows.

The U.S. Embassy in Athens is very happy to collaborate with ACG and bring educational opportunities to refugees and those displaced by the war in Ukraine. It is our moral imperative to stand with the people of Ukraine. It is our societal obligation to help. Together, we can open up a world of possibilities that benefits everyone. We can put a roof over these youths’ heads and give them jobs and hope for a better life.

Ambassador Shutenko addressed his speech to the youth and reflected on the perils of the war in his home country:

It is my pleasure to address the young generation, which is the future. For more than one year, our people have steadfastly defended our country. Russia aims to erase our identity, deny our existence and history, and devalue our culture. We are fighting for our future; they are fighting for someone’s past. Young Ukrainians are deprived of their rights to freedom, medical care, and education. Ukrainian schools are under constant threat. Thank you to the ACG faculty and staff for taking care of Ukrainians to continue their education. The future of Ukraine is in the hands of these students. We hope to have a future for them, and together, we will prevail.

Kathleen Macdonell, Director of the Education Unites Scholarship Program for Refugees-Deree and Pierce Colleges, expounded on the transition of the scholarship from 2016 to the present. The goal of the program when it was established at ACG was to save students: rebuild their lives, have them begin thinking about a future, heal and dream again. A new realization has set in now when we must take into account that the students’ experience gives them a certain perspective. The program is focused now on developing students’ skills to become leaders, to be in the board rooms where decisions are made, to give them skills to be confident and to build a pathway to leadership positions.

The event’s shining stars were the scholarship recipients from Afghanistan, Iran, and Ukraine, who took the stage and participated in a Q&A at the closing. Everyone was moved by their words so much so that an audience member stood up and proclaimed that they were our inspiration. Truly, these students have faced circumstances that one cannot imagine but look ahead to a bright future.

The students talked about the difficulties of balancing school work with jobs, extracurricular activities at ACG and even socializing. Yet they all commented on the great support they have been given at ACG and the opportunities the program offers. Boye Mohammed Alhassan, a scholarship recipient from Ghana, member of the IHP governing body and biomedical science student at Deree, summed up his experience at the program eloquently when he said: “I now dream big and dream about dreams I never thought I could dream about.”