Andrew Tzavaras took a chance.
Dr. Frederick Schneid, one of his mentors, encouraged him. Other members of the history faculty did, too.
In January, he applied to Oxford University, one of the top academic institutions in the world. In April, he got the news. He got in.
Ask anyone. Tzavaras is one sharp student, polite, gentlemanly and quite the talent.
For five years, he worked in media services at the Smith Library, and his graphic design talents are legendary. Ask any of his co-workers, and they’ll point to the posters on the first floor and talk about “the master of all things media.”
So, the why Tzavaras got in is easy. But how it all happened, how a self-described “homebody” decided on Oxford, that’s when it gets really interesting.
HPU transformed Tzavaras. At 27, he knows that.
Tzavaras tells anyone who struggles with his last name that the “T” is silent. So, it’s “Zavaras,” he’ll say. It’s Greek.
His paternal grandfather, Constantine, grew up in Greece during World War II, and he came to the United States in the 1950s to find a better life.
Constantine’s son, John, became a field engineer. John’s son, Andrew, his oldest child, became an artistic, inquisitive kid.
Tzavaras grew up in nearby Greensboro, and he loved “Star Wars,” making home movies about aliens and filling his bedroom with books, action figures, foam swords and a Tinkertoy set.
He went to a private high school beside HPU, and he applied to HPU because he knew he wanted to attend a university close to home.
But he also was enamored with the school’s growing academic stature and its expanding campus. Going to and from high school, he saw the constant construction almost every day.
Meanwhile, he heard about the immigrant story of HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein and how he came to America as a teenager to start a new life. Tzavaras’ paternal grandfather, the man he called “Pappou,” did the same thing.
He helped produce an HPU TV variety show, hosted a weekly radio show on HPU’s Internet radio station and helped edit the end credits for “Elephant Sighs,” a feature film starring actor Ed Asner and written and directed by Ed Simpson, the chair of HPU’s Department of Theatre and Dance.
He wasn’t confident in his editing skills. But Dr. Wilfred Tremblay, the dean of the School of Communication, settled his concern.
“Andrew,” he told him, “This is not the kind of thing to say ‘No’ to.”
It’s the importance of saying yes to opportunity.
Dr. Tremblay wasn’t the only one who told Tzavaras that.
Almost every Friday afternoon, Tzavaras saw Dr. Rick Schneid, the school’s history department chair.
He and other students turned a table in Schneid’s office into a battlefield, complete with tiny houses, tiny trees and tiny military figurines no bigger than a match. They called it “Game Days,” and they played for hours.
HPU became Tzavaras’ intellectual playground; his professors became his coaches.
Like Dr. James Stitt, an HPU history professor.
During Tzavaras’ senior year, he was taking Stitt’s British history course when Stitt turned to him and asked, “I can tell that history is more than just a passing interest with you. Have you considered graduate school?”
Tzavaras had. He minored in philosophy and history at HPU, and after his graduation in 2011, he stayed on campus and obtained a master’s degree in history. Along the way, Tzavaras learned to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.
He tutored students and served as an adjunct history instructor. He traveled to Europe to study, talk with experts and visit places he only knew from conversations and books. Tzavaras’ mom, Jan, saw her only son grow. Tzavaras felt it, too.
“I remember what Dr. Stitt said one time, ‘When you’re 18, you’re four years apart from 14 and 22, and sometimes when you’re 18, you’re really closer to 14 than 22,’” Tzavaras says today. “And what I take away from that is that a lot of growing up happens when you’re in college.
“That happened to me. I learned at High Point that you have to be willing to try new things and make every experience a learning opportunity.”
Later this month, Tzavaras will leave for New College, one of Oxford’s 38 colleges and one of its most prestigious. There, he’ll research Renaissance era of naval warfare, an intellectual passion he first discovered at HPU.
At Oxford, two of his professors will be Peter Wilson and David Parrott, both of whom were visiting scholars at HPU.
Wilson and Parrott know Schneid. They’re all colleagues and good friends. A few years ago, Tzavaras met Wilson on campus when he spoke at a military history seminar Schneid created and named after Dr. Gunther Rothenberg, Schneid’s own mentor.
Rothenberg guided Schneid. Now, Schneid guides Tzavaras.
“This is huge,” Schneid says of Tzavaras’ acceptance at Oxford. “Here you have a history student from High Point University going to one of the preeminent higher-education institutions on Earth and getting a chance to study with some of the top historians in the world.
“So, this is such an intellectual opportunity, but it’s also an opportunity that will set Andrew up for his future in a tough job market,” Schneid says. “As Andrew has said to me, “I will never regret making this decision.’”
“I think about where I am now and where I came from, and I think about what I thought I couldn’t handle,” Tzavaras says. “But I handled this, and I learned that struggle is important for learning and growth and maturity of any person. That happened to me because of High Point.”