Preparing Boys for Life.
Hephaestus Society: celebrating greatness
George Tseteskos P’20

Named after the Greek god of the forge, Hephaestus Society recognizes those who toil in relative obscurity to create greatness. Recently, Haverford inducted 2018 society members for their commitment to the intellectual life of the School through active participation in select clubs and activities. The guest speaker was George Tseteskos P’20, Dean Emeritus and the Francis Professor of Finance Drexel University. He shares his remarks in this blog post.

For this evening, I settled upon a modern re-telling of the story of our man/god of the hour, Hephaestus, how his legacy, and my own, were forged, and how our examples may guide your future endeavors.

As you know, Hephaestus was the Greek god of fire, metalworking, stone masonry, forges, and the art of sculpture. He was the son of Zeus and Hera. When Hephaestus was first born, Hera, his mother, did not like how he looked, so she threw him to the depths of the sea from Mount Olympus. He was found by two Nereids who raised him for nine years inside a cave. He did eventually return and was the first god to return to Mount Olympus after exile. In short, his beginnings were less than promising and indeed traumatic. Nevertheless, he became a smithing god, successful and powerful, making all of the weapons for Olympus and acting as blacksmith for the other gods. Most importantly, he not only forged things, he also forged a unique identity for himself through hard work and use of his natural talents. You are inducted today to a society that recognizes your unique identity and academic excellence through hard work and intellect.  

My beginnings were, like Hephaestus’, humble and bleak. I grew up in a town in Greece called Nafplion, a seaport in the eastern Peloponnese of Greece. This small village of 3,000 people is located 15 minutes away from Mycenae (a flourishing civilization in Bronze age 1350 BC), 20 minutes away from the location where Greek ships sailed to Troy to take back Helen from Sparta who was abducted by Paris of Troy.

While I am definitely not a Greek god, as many people would attest, Hephaestus and I have some things in common, other than both being born into the most wonderful Greek culture and influential civilization. My beginnings were, like Hephaestus’, humble and bleak. I grew up in a town in Greece called Nafplion, a seaport in the eastern Peloponnese of Greece. This small village of 3,000 people is located 15 minutes away from Mycenae (a flourishing civilization in Bronze age 1350 BC), 20 minutes away from the location where Greek ships sailed to Troy to take back Helen from Sparta who was abducted by Paris of Troy.

My school was in no way similar to The Haverford School, other that it was all boys school – common for that time. All students were in one small building with six classrooms, moving from one classroom to the next for each grade from middle school to high school. We had no Chef Henry. If you were fortunate enough, your mom packed you a piece of bread to eat during the day. No flexible calendar and we had school during Saturdays. We knew school work was important and lack of discipline was treated with spankings. Organized sports? They didn’t exist. I met my friends outside to play soccer with the only existing under-inflated ball we had. Extracurricular activities? None. My only extracurricular activity was pulling an old rickety wagon every day to get our daily block of ice to be used refrigeration.

My parents had only a third grade education; my father was a blue color worker for the electrical company who worked very hard and my mother was a homemaker. These were the parents who instilled in me a fire, much like the fire of Hephaestus, to study and to learn if I wanted to succeed. I had also demanding teachers, who instilled discipline and rigor in my education. 

In such a small country as Greece, there were a “predetermined” number of seats set by the government for those students that could enter the law school, medical school, the teaching profession, accountants, economists, and so on. My dream was to become an engineer, but I knew to gain admittance I had to score high enough compared to the other students. With no tutoring available, I studied day and night on my own. Thankfully, I scored high enough to be admitted to the National Technical University in Athens. Since we could not afford to pay for two rents, the whole family had to leave Nafplion and make a new life in Athens, where I would be attending the university.

Engagement in activities leading to academic excellence fosters extraordinary achievements. You are so lucky to be living in this awesome country, in this time full of technological advances and medical breakthroughs, a time when all the world’s knowledge is only a few taps away on your electronic devices. Financing new ventures, building new technologies, and investing in future endeavors all create an environment of hope. Just like Hephaestus, let the fire and passion within each and every one of you guide you to greatness, to excellence, to make a real difference in our world with your intellectual curiosity and rigor.

And so, the fire that was already lit inside me continued to burn. At some point in my university studies, I learned of a quantitative methodology that permitted the optimization of heat transfer from one machine to another. Subsequently, I learned about an application of the same methodology to the world of stocks and bonds. I found the application to be of great interest and, frankly, I was fascinated by how an engineering-based methodology had been modified to generate financial portfolios with optimal allocations of stocks and bonds. I then decided that I wanted to study finance after I finished my undergraduate engineering degree. With no advanced studies for finance in Greece, I came to the U.S. and earned a master's degree and doctorate degree in finance.

There is no question that the journey of a young boy from Nafplion, Greece has been long and challenging.   However, for me education was the ticket out of poverty. For you, the Haverford School education will be the ticket to success and extraordinary achievements. Years of research has shown that extracurricular activities and academic excellence impact students in three different ways: 

  • Enhance student intellect. They provide unmatched experiences, supplementing and supporting a rigorous curriculum. They broaden the scope of thinking and expand our intellect.  
  • Develop leadership and team-working skills. Extracurricular activities have a positive effect on student behavior, leadership potential, creativity, self-respect, satisfaction and many other aspects related to be coming successful adult. They also provide pride, confidence, and self-esteem. 
  • Predictors of academic success. Participation in clubs/organizations is an indicator of future academic success. Studies have shown that students participating in extracurricular activities are high achievers, receive better than average grades, and have better placement opportunities in the labor force. 

Engagement in activities leading to academic excellence fosters extraordinary achievements. You are so lucky to be living in this awesome country, in this time full of technological advances and medical breakthroughs, a time when all the world’s knowledge is only a few taps away on your electronic devices. Financing new ventures, building new technologies, and investing in future endeavors all create an environment of hope. Just like Hephaestus, let the fire and passion within each and every one of you guide you to greatness, to excellence, to make a real difference in our world with your intellectual curiosity and rigor.  

As you continue your journey, don’t forget the notion of “no free lunch,” follow your fire of Hephaestus to achieve your dreams, but also give back to those who contributed to your future “good life.” Congratulations on your accomplishments here at The Haverford School and for making us proud parents. Continue to make us proud as your lives go forward.

I have no doubt as new members of the Hephaestus society you will be successful in your future endeavors. However, please don’t forget those who have worked to make you successful. Don’t forget those who advise and guide you. Don’t forget your teachers and staff at The Haverford School. I want to leave you with a quote: “To my father I own my life, to my teacher I own my good life.” This is what Alexander the Great said for his teacher Aristóteles. Any college you attend in the future will provide you the skill and tools needed for a professional career, but the foundation for success will be attributed to the teachers of The Haverford School. As you grow older and achieve professional prominence, don’t forget your school and its faculty. To show your appreciation for having a good life in the future, please give back to the School – some of you will develop special talents, others may have time to dedicate to advance the mission of the School, others may open their treasure and give scholarship support to the School.

As you continue your journey, don’t forget the notion of “no free lunch,” follow your fire of Hephaestus to achieve your dreams, but also give back to those who contributed to your future “good life.” Congratulations on your accomplishments here at The Haverford School and for making us proud parents. Continue to make us proud as your lives go forward.

 

Dr. George Tsetsekos is Dean Emeritus and the Francis Professor of Finance at LeBow’s College of Business at Drexel University. He earned a B.S. and M.S. in mechanical and electrical engineering from the National Technical University of Athens, a MBA in finance from Wright State University, and a Ph.D. in finance from the University of Tennessee.

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