Congressman John Sarbanes Visits the Princeton Athens Center and speaks about democracy

June 22, 2023

By Catherine Curan

Congressman John Sarbanes, Class of 1984, was one of the first students at Princeton Hellenic Studies.

He took Modern Greek classes taught by Dimitri Gondicas, who was collaborating with Classics professor W. Robert Connor and the late Edmund Keeley to launch the program after a transformative gift to the University from Stanley J. Seeger in 1979.

Sarbanes reconnected with his former teacher – now the Stanley J. Seeger ‘52 Director, Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies – and the Princeton Hellenic Studies academic community last Monday, giving a talk titled “Bolstering America’s Democratic Institutions in the Face of Rising Authoritarianism.”

About 35 guests attended the invitation-only event at the Princeton Athens Center. They included Princeton alumni, faculty and students, current and former Seeger Center postdoctoral research fellows, scholars, and public servants. The small scale and informal setting fostered audience participation in an in-depth, hour-long conversation after Sarbanes’ talk.

“Participating in a robust discussion on democracy was my first opportunity to visit the Princeton Athens Center and gave me a better understanding of the Center’s role in bringing together students, researchers, scholars and practitioners to address critical issues through a Hellenic lens,” said Congressman Sarbanes.

Gondicas introduced Sarbanes, fondly recalling brainstorming sessions in the early 1980s about how to strengthen the study of the Hellenic world while promoting the values of public service in the Greek diaspora and Greece. Gondicas joked that these discussions were fueled by delicious Greek cookies and sweets sent in care packages by Sarbanes’ yiayia.

One of those ideas came to fruition in 2014 with the launch of the Paul S. Sarbanes ‘54 Fund for Hellenism and Public Service in honor of John Sarbanes’ father. The Sarbanes Fund supports teaching, research, service, and events on campus and in Greece, creating new avenues for collaboration between the Seeger Center and the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs (then called the Woodrow Wilson School). The fund honors the legacy of Paul S. Sarbanes, a first-generation Greek American who served five terms as a U.S. Senator. Sarbanes, who died in December 2020, championed the rights of individual investors and curtailed accounting fraud by public companies with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.

“Hellenic studies at Princeton has come a long way since the early days when I had the privilege of taking some of the first courses taught by Dimitri Gondicas,” said Congressman Sarbanes, adding: “Dimitri’s outstanding leadership of the Hellenic Studies Program has ensured its ongoing relevance and success, and I’m very proud that the Sarbanes family is now associated with the program through the Paul Sarbanes ’54 Fund for Hellenism and Public Service.” 

John Sarbanes majored in the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, going on to spend a year in Greece as a Fulbright scholar before attending Harvard Law School. He was elected to Congress in 2007 and has represented Maryland’s third congressional district ever since. Sarbanes, a Democrat, is a senior member of the influential and historic House Committee on Energy and Commerce. He serves on subcommittees including Energy, Climate, and Grid Security and Health. In addition, he co-chairs the Task Force on Strengthening Democracy, spearheading efforts to pass sweeping democracy reform legislation.

“All of us at the Seeger Center, and I personally, are deeply proud of John Sarbanes for his remarkable accomplishments in public service, his integrity, and his impressive record in support of U.S. democratic institutions, education, and the environment, and US-Greek relations,” said Gondicas.