For some people, the word Thanksgiving conjures up fond memories of family and friends gathered around a table loaded with favorite foods.
But for college students who live too far away to travel home for the short break, the holiday can be a reminder of loved ones they are missing, while some international students may have never celebrated Thanksgiving.
To support such students and foster a strong sense of community, President Jo Allen has established an annual tradition of hosting a Thanksgiving meal for students at Massey House, the president’s residence. This year’s event took place on November 27.
“This luncheon reminds us that unlike so many in our world today who are truly lonely, hungry, and adrift, our students – even those who are far from home – are in a loving, connected community of faculty, staff, and friends who want to engage with each other in pursuing goals and healthy relationships and strengths,” said Allen.
Welcoming students into her home is important to Allen and a consistent feature of her presidency. When new students first arrive on Meredith’s campus, they attend a reception at Massey House as part of Orientation. And each year during Cornhuskin’, students make their way to the president’s house for a “raid” where they are served coffee and doughnuts and take selfies with Allen.
President Allen said Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday precisely because of its emphasis on gratitude and caring for others.
“It inspires us to think of others far more than ourselves,” said Allen. “Our gratitude is inextricably tied to others and forces us to slow down and, hopefully, express that gratitude.”
The menu is a traditional Thanksgiving meal including turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, macaroni and cheese, and a variety of desserts. It also includes a recipe that President Allen’s mother served, in order to give her guests a taste of her home. And in a nod to another beloved tradition, after the meal students are given takeout containers so they can enjoy leftovers later on.
For many years, a former employee hosted international students for Thanksgiving. When he left Meredith, President Allen and Jean Jackson,’75, vice president for college programs, stepped into the void, with staff from the Offices of International Programs and Residence Life also playing key roles.
Heidi LeCount, director of residence life, said the welcoming nature of the meal has a community-building effect that extends far beyond the meal itself.
"The students who attend the lunch are able to meet students they might not otherwise meet. Oftentimes, at the end of the meal, students can be overheard making weekend plans together and exchanging phone numbers," said LeCount.
Students at this year’s luncheon hail from as far away as South Korea, Gambia, Mauritania, and California, and as nearby as Knightdale and Cary.
“It’s open to any student who wants to celebrate the holiday and be together in community,” said Traci Johnson, assistant director of international programs.
Marie Johnson, ’20, has attended the luncheon for the last two years.
“This is the best event for international students we could have. I see all of these women I know and love on campus but we’re so busy, especially right before finals, we never get to just sit and talk,” she said. “The time together is the beauty of it.”
As the luncheon wound down and students discussed weekend plans, President Allen brought out her dog, Bachelor, at the students’ request, prompting another round of pictures.
“This holiday and this luncheon remind me to celebrate that our students are phenomenal and that the time I spend with them is precious,” said Allen. “My own gratitude, in other words, multiplies exponentially with every single student who comes to this special luncheon.”