SU students from 80 countries took part in a celebration Thursday at Goldstein Auditorium.

When social distancing was not even heard of

“Is this your first Thanksgiving meal?”

Devon Bartholomew’s question to a table of Chinese, Indian and Korean students was a natural opener for many hosts at Syracuse University’s 34th International Thanksgiving Dinner.

For many of the international students at Bartholomew’s table and hundreds more from 80 different countries who gathered in Goldstein Auditorium, the Thursday evening meal was their proper introduction to a feast of food traditionally served for the American holiday.

Students’ plates were filled with mashed and sweet potatoes, stuffing, steamed corn and cranberry relish along with slices of a golden-basted turkey that was ceremonially carved on the Goldstein stage. Their feasting was capped with a quintessential Thanksgiving finale of pies – pumpkin for some, apple for others.

What is Thanksgiving without turkey

The significance of the dinner went beyond the food, however, as it brought people of several cultures together for a celebratory gathering of the campus and global community, according to event organizer Ruth Chen.

Chen, a professor of practice in SU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science and wife of SU Chancellor Kent Syverud, helped revive the holiday tradition three years ago.

“It is wonderful to be able to provide such an opportunity to so many students to experience together,” Chen said.

The dinner included a short address on the theme of gratitude that Thanksgiving is known for from Regina Jones, assistant director of SU’s Native Student Program and an Onondaga Nation member.

“We give thanks every day, not just on one day,” Jones said. “We must remember the gifts of nature, as we are stewards of the environment and have to preserve the world for our future generations.”

As the gravy was refilled and the potatoes were passed around, conversations and camaraderie were rife.

“It is important for foreign students to get a taste of the culture that we are living in,” said Tej Bhatia, SU linguistics professor and two-time host of the event. “The excitement they exude is enjoyable to experience.”

The students at Bartholomew’s table were certainly excited, given the personal invitation they received for a homemade meal with SU’s Baptist chaplain and his wife on Thanksgiving day this week.

Oh, those sweet Sweet Potato & Pumpkin Pies

With the satisfaction of a full stomach, audio arts graduate student Payal Rathod from Pune, India, said the event was well-organized and food awesome.

“It was really nice to be a part of this celebration — to experience the American culture,” Rathod said.

This story was written for and published in The Newshouse on November 19, 2018. Photos also by Lyle Michael.