“I’m not anti-social, but I’m not a social butterfly either. However, I want to believe that I am not a “plant”, says the 18-year-old smiling Philip Foufas. I would have a hard time believing him, as he passed all grades in middle school and high school with an average of over 19, and in this year’s National exams was introduced to Law School of Athens achieving the ultimate. Collect 20,000 points. Think about it: he got all eight graders of the four courses 20! Unbelievable, perhaps unique in the annals of the Panhellenic Examinations. However, during our almost three-hour conversation, he “brought out” to me a child who steps solidly, is aware of his choices and supports them “hard-core”, as he told me at one point, but without compulsion. “I think a ‘plant’ is someone who only deals with the lessons and has no other interests,” he says. “Is there a secret to success in the Hellenic Courts?” I ask him. “Whatever you say is a cliché. Everyone has to follow their own system of study, without tried and tested standards,” he replies.
While I was waiting for him, at the entrance of the Law School building, I was looking at the archival material of the exhibition that was organized in the area for the uprising of the 2,500 students of Philosophy and Law, which is considered a harbinger of the Polytechnic. He laughs awkwardly when I ask him if he knows anything about the events. “I learned them at school. I don’t think our generation has different demands. Financial well-being, good education, and respect for rights are always requested. But we are talking about different times, different political and social conditions. We are more pragmatic and through this framework we “claim” life”, he says.
Philip grew up in an urban family environment. The father is a civil engineer, the mother a chemist. The older brother is studying at the Computer Engineering Department of NTUA. His parents chose a private school in Athens for the children and he was an excellent student from an early age. “At home there was an opinion that education is important. For this reason, the climate was cultivated that led me to be diligent in my studies. That’s how I read since I was little. In elementary school I was more relaxed – whatever that means for a kid that age. I never felt pressured with the reading. But from high school I entered the trip of excellence. I didn’t feel “burnt out” from reading, I wasn’t without company. But I think that when you try to be excellent, you gain confidence from it and at the same time you build your personality. To an extent one becomes addicted to all this,” he explains.
“In the 2nd and 3rd year of Lyceum, the candidate lives in a very artificial environment. Those are years that those who want to do well “burn”. I too feel that they are wasted years, I could be doing something more creative, more productive. But you’ve got to work your ass off to get through university,’ he says, pausing, then laughingly asks: ‘Are you going to spell it like that?’
“a matter of luck”
I think that what he says about the Panhellenic Examinations can summarize both the philosophy of the system that has “held” for five decades, as well as the way in which every candidate should face the exams. “The Panhellenic exams have a degree of drudgery, it is not a system characterized by precision in assessing the skills of candidates, success is to a certain extent a matter of luck. For example, in Antiquities we studied texts by Aristotle, Plato, Epicurus, but we did not delve into them. If one has only to parrot the book, nothing is gained. But I don’t have a completely negative opinion of the Hellenic Courts. It is a conservative, oppressive system that puts you in “boxes” to succeed, that you have to follow its rules. But the rules are the same for everyone, you know them in advance – in which part you have to parrot, for which field you have to study the material in combination and develop critical thinking. At the same time, it is an immutable system, while the preparation process contributes to the cultivation of certain skills, such as stubbornness, endurance, determination, self-restraint, discipline. These are also part of life.”
He was clear when I asked him if he thought he could get a 20 in all four subjects. “If you think so, I don’t think you’ll make it,” he told me at first. “And the trick of excellence you mentioned earlier?” I commented. “Yes, in History and Latin I was aiming for 20, so I probably took it for granted. In Ancients it was a surprise for me not to have even a small mistake that deprived me of a unit. I have to admit that I thought I would get into one of the three law schools in the country, but I was also holding back because of the Report which is extremely unpredictable. So the 20 in the Exhibition, yes, was unimaginable. I didn’t believe it at first. I felt joy and pride”…
“Have you flunked a course at university?” I ask. “Nah! I’m reserved, the patina of school doesn’t come off easily. Law school is tough at first, especially when one doesn’t have lawyer parents. You are bombarded with new jargon. You are lost. Leave it as it is a difficult school.”
“From high school I entered the trip of excellence. I didn’t feel “burnt out” from reading, I wasn’t without friends.”
It is no coincidence that in the school he is the first of the first, and even with the absolute record of 20,000 points. “Why, are the other students better? They have the same “hard-core” performance to be imported”, he notes with a laugh.
“We hear dystopian descriptions of public universities, especially those of us who go to private schools. But no, the situation in Greek universities is not third world. And the spaces are decent, and there is organization. Some of their supposed stereotypical pathologies are myths, from what I know at least so far. I wanted to study in Greece, why go abroad? I don’t see the reason,” he says when I ask him about his first impressions of the school. In fact, he received a gift from a student group. “On the first day, DAP gave us the Civil Code in photocopy,” he says, laughing. “Left factions come into classes and make announcements – now they talk a lot about the events in Gaza – handing out leaflets. Of course, overall, I expected the lineups to be more aggressive. Perhaps they approach students more skillfully. On the other hand, they don’t have the power I expected and what we were hearing from the parents,” he adds.
I intentionally left the next question last. I wanted him to be familiar with the cell phone that records in order to answer me about an event that marks the end of a twelve-year school career.
– Did you go on a five-day trip or did you prefer to read?
– No, I wouldn’t lose her for anything. We voted between the outside and the inside. We chose interior, and then Thessaloniki, Volos and Ioannina were the other options. Obviously we wanted to blow off steam in the clubs. I believe that “cultural trips” to museums and exhibitions are not boogie-worthy. Better to do them yourself, calmly. Since it’s a five-day school trip with all the kids, there’s an inevitable dose of… mischief. We went to tourist restaurants in Ladadika and had a blast. They had the worst prezzo wine I’ve ever tasted, and bananas.
– Philip, what is prezocraso?
– What can I say! (laughs) It’s like the wine they sell at the kiosks!