Presidential Inaugurations in the United States are about tradition. The oaths and the marching bands, the celebration of a continuity of the transfer of power that is as old as the nation itself.
Today’s commentators across all networks and online streaming all recounted the stories and the anecdotes from inaugurations of years, decades— even centuries past.
But there was one tradition that was perhaps overlooked by the mainstream media that didn’t lose its scope and significance on Greek Americans, who know their long and illustrious history as an important part of the American political fabric.
Mike Manatos, one of the 1,000 people invited to attend this inauguration, couldn’t help but hold back the tears. But his tears went deeper and flowed longer down his wind blown face on this January day.
Showing his ring emblazoned with a bust of Alexander the Great, he shared the story that this ring was first worn by his namesake and grandfather at this very ceremony at the US. Capitol sixty years ago today, January 20, 1961, when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th president of the United States.
The elder Mike Manatos, of course, was the first Greek American to work in the White House, serving as Kennedy’s Senate Liaison.
The family recalls that the ring never left Manatos’ finger. It was a keepsake connection to his Greek heritage and a constant reminder to him of where he came from and the legacy that had been passed on to him over the millennia from generations of Greeks before him.
He passed the ring onto his own son, Andrew, who followed in his father’s footsteps, working in the US Congress– where he met Joe Biden as a young man and has been a close friend ever since, also serving in the cabinet in the Carter Administration as Assistant Secretary of Commerce.
Getting ready this morning for the Inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Mike said putting on the ring was the last thing he did before looking up and giving his papou a nod in the heavens, and letting him know with a slight movement of his hand that it would be going back to the long American tradition of inaugurating the next President.
This burden of this history continues to weigh heavily on the younger Mike, whose parents gifted papou’s ring as a surprise on his 50th birthday. For 85 years and three generations the Manatos family has worked in and with the US government, serving their country and promoting their homeland and faith.
“A day doesn’t go by when I glance at the White House, or the Capitol, that I don’t think of my papou— and all Greek Americans who have followed, who served this great nation with a double sense of pride of knowing where we come from— the birthplace of democracy and where we are today, serving the people of the world’s greatest democracy.
On Inauguration Day 2021, Mike was full of emotion showing his papou’s ring, in the presence of friends in the US Congress and others such as the Greek Ambassador to Washington DC the Honorable Alexandra Papadopoulou — all of whom were there to celebrate Greek and American democracy.
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