AHIís 33rd Anniversary Hellenic Heritage Achievement
and National Public Service Awards Dinner
AHEPAís 38th Biennial Banquet
March 25, 2008
Rarely does a Greek man have the opportunity to wear a tux, and itís almost never when he gets to do so twice in a month. Every two years however, AHEPA and the American Hellenic Institute both schedule their most formal of events for March in DC, as the AHEPA Biennial Banquet joins the ďAHI DinnerĒ as perhaps the two classiest Greek events that many Greek-Americans will ever attend, at least that donít involve the obligatory exchanging of goats. Getting Greek-American young adults to attend these events though is a challenge that has much to do with the price, format, and line up of each event.
AHEPA seems to vary its locations every two years, this year settling on the recently infamous Mayflower Hotel, actually using the same ballroom that the first Biennial took place in during the 1940s. AHI has a lock on using the Capitol Hilton for almost all its functions, which accommodates the pre-function time, dinner and after-dinner Greek dancing.
AHEPAís focus on variety and on venues with a bit of history narrowly edges out the reliable yet predictable confines of AHIís Capitol Hilton.
|AHI Staff and friends celebrate a
successful 33rd Anniversary AHI Dinner.
AHEPAís Biennial Banquet usually hovers around $140-$165 per person for the evening. While this may seem like a bargain compared to AHIís prices, which topped out at $350 for the average attendee this year, the typical young adult can often find themselves at the AHI Dinner for fewer dollars, thanks to a generous under-30 rate, and AHI and its benefactorsí willingness to subsidize the attendance of young adults. This yearís AHEPA Biennial featured less than 10 attendees who were under the age of 35 whereas by contrast the AHI Dinner drew about five tables worth, ranging from the Georgetown Hellenic Club to a table of AHIís own interns, to other young adults from the DC area and elsewhere.
Even though AHIís price for most people is high enough to ensure that it makes about 80% of its annual operating budget from the event, its willingness to subsidize young adult attendance makes the price much more worth it for the typical young adult.
AHEPAís Biennial Banquet is geared toward recognizing the public service contributions of Greek-American political figures so this yearís lineup featured John Sarbanes, Zack Space and others.
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios has also become a staple at recent AHEPA events. AHI typically honors a range of Greek-Americans and Philhellenes at its Dinner. This yearís awardees included Zack Space, the Archbishop, and famed Hollywood actress Melina
The otherwise ubiquitous line ups for both organizations tips in AHIís favor despite the absence of Zack Space, with Melina Kanakaredes in attendance. Itís rare to go to one of these banquets and not want for the speakers to wrap up quickly, but Melina Kanakaredesí natural beauty, charm and genuineness made her an absolute joy to listen to that evening.
More Entertaining Dinner Conversation
Where AHEPA lacks in its young adult turnout, it makes up for in its ability to gather a room full of sweet and sometimes surly septuagenarians. These old-timers are great for sharing stories of the organizationís rich past and are just happy to see anyone under- 40 in attendance. The AHI Dinner featured much more movement during the fast moving dinner with people congregating with each other toward the dignitaries at the front of the ballroom, leaving many empty seats at tables in the meantime.
Getting a chance to actually talk to the others at your table beats an extended cocktail party atmosphere between courses.
Better Speech by the Archbishop
Itís a rare pleasure listening to His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios twice in eight days. His remarks at AHEPA were definitely the highlight of that evening, as his keen ability to adlib and surprising comic timing were on display. (The Archbishop pulled an iPhone from underneath his robe to illustrate the pervasiveness of the Greek language in our everyday parlance.) His remarks at AHI seemed more rehearsed particularly given the repetitiveness of some of his remarks from the prior week.
Nothing beats a Hierarch pulling a $500 piece of technology from his vestments.
Most Inappropriate Political Stumping
Itís hard to stay apolitical at any formal dinner held in DC in an election year. Even though AHEPA reached out to all the candidates, a former undersecretary of the Navy and current Obama advisor got a chance to address those in attendance, much to the jeers of Clinton supporters and Republicans in the crowd. The pro-Democratic speech came from a longtime AHI supporter from Ohio who in accepting Zack Spaceís award in his absence, went on an unscripted rant including calling out the one
uncommitted Democratic Super Delegate who happened to be in the audience. Particularly in a year where there is no clear candidate that the Greek-American electorate is supporting, such partisan outbursts are inappropriate in these types of settings.
Politics at an AHI event is to be expected, but a full-on infomercial for one particular candidate is something completely different.
Best After-Dinner Entertainment
AHEPAís Biennial Banquet is unique among Greek-American events is that it is one of the only Greek-American formal events that doesnít feature a Greek-band and dancing afterwards. At the end of a very long night, a few of the old-timers adjourned to the hotel bar, while the few young adults in attendance simply left. The AHI Dinner by contrast ended with a premium open bar, Greek dancing to the sounds of Apollonia, and an after-party in the Executive Directorís hotel suite that lasted well into the early morning hours. This managed to keep most of the young adults there to the very end.
Itís refreshing to see an organization that takes itself rather seriously allow for its members and supporters to relax and have fun after all the business of the night is over.
OVERALL WINNER: AHI
The AHI Banquet is this yearís overall winner based on its commitment to appealing to young adults and having the young adults respond in kind. A little bit of sacrificing the bottom line to cater to our generation will pay dividends down the road when our generation is able to easily afford to donate money not only to attend these events but to support the works of the organization as a whole.
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