Orange Community Comes Together for Annual International Thanksgiving Celebration

Members of the Syracuse University community came together to share a meal—virtually—on Nov. 19, as the University held its 36th Annual International Thanksgiving Celebration via Zoom.

The celebration was started at the University in the 1980s by the Rev. T.E. Koshy as a way to bring international students together and introduce them to the American Thanksgiving tradition. For many years, students, faculty, staff and alumni have come together in the Goldstein Auditorium in the Schine Student Center to enjoy a meal and learn more about one another.

Catering Services staff fixing dinners

Catering Services staff members fix meals for the International Thanksgiving Dinner. Those attending the dinner picked up the meals in advance to be enjoyed during the virtual event.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic made an in-person gathering impossible. That did not deter the event’s organizers from making the dinner happen. “Given our current situation, it was great to see everyone come together to plan and gather as an Orange family to celebrate Thanksgiving,” says Juan Tavares, director of the Center for International Services and co-host of the dinner. “Sharing the time and upholding the tradition was needed this year more than ever.”

Staff from the Chancellor’s House and the Center for International Services set to work to move the celebration online. Food Services prepared traditional Thanksgiving meals—including turkey, stuffing, mashed and sweet potatoes, corn, cranberry sauce and pie, as well as vegetarian and Halal meals—that were available for pickup to be enjoyed during the event. With guidance from Information Technology Services, staff from the Center for International Services set up the Zoom call and breakout rooms for students to engage with “table hosts”—faculty, staff and alumni from the community.

Tavares offered a greeting, and welcome remarks were offered by Dr. Ruth Chen, professor of practice in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and co-host of the dinner, and Chancellor Kent Syverud.

“Dr. Chen and I recognize that this has been a particularly challenging year for everyone. A pandemic is hard enough. Enduring a pandemic while being in a new place, a new country and with new people is even harder,” Chancellor Syverud said. “Yet every Thanksgiving, no matter our challenges, we pause to remember our blessings. The blessing of friends. The blessing of having food to eat. The blessings of being part of a community of learning. We are so grateful tonight to remember these blessings and to celebrate you as part of our Orange family.”

Regina Jones, assistant director of the Native Student Program and a member of the Oneida Nation’s Turtle Clan, offered the Native American Blessing. Evangelical Christian Chaplain Jay Koshy offered the invocation, and the benediction was offered by Muslim Chaplain Amir Duric.

The carving of the turkey by Catering Services Associate Director Joe Sidoni—one of the highlights of the meal each year—was presented on video.

“This year’s virtual Thanksgiving dinner was a lovely opportunity to come together as a community after all we have experienced this year. The event allowed me to experience Thanksgiving despite the pandemic,” says MaryAnn McVey, a first-year student and 2020-21 Syracuse-Lockerbie Scholar from Templand, Scotland. “The event was really lovely from start to finish, but I though the breakout rooms in particular were a great touch. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation at my ‘table.’ It was nice to hear about the experiences of a fellow international student, as well as to have the opportunity to talk about my experience as a first-year student this semester.”

Note: Video includes photos from events in previous years.
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