Office of Public Engagement

Philotimo

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While most people will have to wait to honor Greek Independence Day, three hundred Greek-Americans, Greeks, and Greek-lovers descended upon the White House Tuesday night to celebrate three weeks early. As the President joked, the Greeks never need an excuse to have a good time.

And there’s no doubt a good time was had by all. Not only were our appetites satiated by the talented Iron Chef Cat Cora, but our hearts were warmed by the attendance of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios and, for the first time, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and his wife, Ada. This year also marked the first time the First Lady joined in the celebration which, in the words of the Archbishop, “certainly enhances the joy of the day.”

First Lady Michelle Obama greets Mrs. Ada Papandreou, the First Lady of Greece, in the Yellow Oval Room of the White House, March 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

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But Tuesday’s reception’s significance extends beyond the remembrance of Greek Independence Day. It was also a celebration of what Prime Minister Papandreou called the “lasting link” between the American and Greek people.    – a link further strengthened by the Department of Homeland Security’s announcement that Greece has been added to the Visa Waiver Program. It is an enduring bond forged by our shared history, our common values, and our united obligation to build a better future.

In that spirit, President Obama highlighted the Greek concept of Philotimo – literally, the “love of honor.” But practically, Philotimo means so much more. It is the sense of love for family, community and country. It is the sense of nobility and morality enshrined in Greek mythology. And it is the sense of right and wrong and the duty to do what’s right.

While the English language offers no direct translation of Philotimo, American citizens uphold this essential concept every time they volunteer in their local community, dig deep into their pockets to donate to charity, or generally go out of their way to improve the life of their neighbor.

Darron P. Monteiro is the Deputy Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement

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