Students Build Community and Experience Culture at Thanksgiving on the Vern

Division for Student Affairs event a hit for students who stayed on campus during weeklong break.

November 27, 2023

GW students shared fellowship and food at last Tuesday's Thanksgiving on the Vern. (William Atkins/GW Today)

Shay Prasad, an exchange student from London’s Queen Mary University who is studying history this academic year at the George Washington University, was scheduled to fly back home to England at 6 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 21, to spend his break from classes back home.

But boarding a flight at that time would have meant missing out on a U.S. tradition he had heard much about but never experienced. When he learned that GW’s Mount Vernon Campus (MVC) would be hosting a Thanksgiving meal for students on Tuesday afternoon, he decided to delay his return to London for later in the day.

He wasn’t about to miss out, and he was not disappointed.

“Whenever I met American friends, they would tell me about Thanksgiving first instead of Christmas,” Prasad said. “You guys take this seriously!

“But this is very cool—and very good.”

He especially gave the turkey his stamp of approval, although he admits that he needs a few more cracks at a Thanksgiving meal to warm up to the sweet potatoes with marshmallows.

Thanksgiving on the Vern, held at MVC’s Post Hall, provided students staying on campus during the weeklong break from classes an opportunity to enjoy a traditional, buffet style catered feast with all the fixings—green beans, mac and cheese, salad, mashed potatoes, turkey, ham, pumpkin and pecan pies and, yes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows—while building community with one another. Students could also take a to-go container for later in the week.

Division for Student Affairs staffers started planning for the meal in October after getting feedback from students who were planning on staying during Thanksgiving break. Staff felt it was important to provide a welcoming space for students to enjoy fellowship together.

“We want students to be able to have a safe space where they can come and meet other people,” said Fernae Ellard, who is a community coordinator at MVC’s Somers Hall. “This event brings students out and connects them to their classmates and campus partners.”

President Ellen M. Granberg and her wife, Sonya Rankin, stopped by Post Hall to eat and mingle with the roughly 75 students who broke bread together.

For GW’s international community members not making the long voyage back to their homes, Thanksgiving on the Vern not only offered a free meal and structured event but also a chance to experience a big part of American culture.

Roommates Astrid Bochnakian, a political science and history exchange student from France’s University of Strasbourg, and biochemistry exchange student Lucia Suarez Muniz from Spain live together in Building JJ on the Foggy Bottom campus. They took the Vern Express from Foggy Bottom Tuesday with Prasad, who also lives in Building JJ, to experience their first American Thanksgiving meal together.

They, too, gave their compliments.

“Honestly, I really wanted to try the stuffing,” Suarez Muniz said. “And it’s really good.”

While Prasad—eventually—went back to England to finish off the break, Bochnakian and Suarez Muniz further embedded themselves in Thanksgiving culture as they also watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade together Thursday. In fact, CLRE screened the parade and provided snacks for students in the Thurston Hall penthouse.

Students such as first-year political science major Josh Antao appreciated the efforts GW made to include those staying in D.C. during Thanksgiving week. His family back in Fulshear, Texas, usually makes a traditional meal for the holiday, and eating turkey at Thanksgiving on the Vern allowed him to feel a little at home away from home in the company of fellow GW students and staff.

Not to mention, the food exceeded his expectations.

“The turkey was really quite good—I was surprised how good it was,” Antao said.

Coming from someone who partook in Thanksgiving meals growing up, Antao’s glowing review further validated Prasad’s decision to move back his flight time.