Students, faculty and staff share in giving thanks
Aimee LaBrie

Members of the men's basketball team helped serve Thanksgiving staples to Rider students and staff.

For students, the price of admission was a can of Campbell’s tomato soup or any other canned item. For faculty and staff, it was a mere $6 per ticket. In exchange for these donations, all members of the Rider community were invited to take part the annual Thanksgiving Celebration — a Rider tradition that highlights the importance of giving this holiday season.

On Thursday, Nov. 14, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the BLC Cavalla Room, more than 300 students and dozens of faculty and staff were welcomed to a meal of turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin, apple, or blueberry pie with fresh whipped cream (sponsored by ARAMARK). The point of the celebration was to create a sense of community, to collectively give thanks, and to illustrate that the holidays can offer opportunities to give and receive in equal measure. 

When asked why she had decided to attend, MBA graduate student Virginia Egusquiza, who hails from Northern Spain, offered two reasons. “I was interested to get a better senses of the history and traditions of Thanksgiving in this country, but more than that, I wanted to meet new people from around the university. Like you,” she generously added.

Sponsored by the Student Support Services Program, the event also featured a capella singing from the Unashamed Gospel Choir, welcome remarks by student Yisel Tarvas and an opening blessing from Father J.C. Garrett of Campus Ministry at Rider, whose message was one of grateful that members of the Rider family can be gathered together to break bread.

The celebration also featured remarks from students who focused their short speeches on their own personal accounts of gratitude.

Junior Gina McKool, a psychology major had been practicing her speech in front of her roommate, Amanda, for days. She confessed before speaking that the focus of her talk was actually Amanda herself. “She’s been such a great roommate and friend,” McKool said. “She’s seen me through a lot this semester, and there’s never been a right time to thank her. So, I’m going to surprise her when I get up there and let her know how her support has meant so much to me.”

Clinical psychology major Jennifer Cultrara, the residence director for Rider House, used the heart as a metaphor for her thankfulness, connecting it back to her father, who died eight months ago. She explained that he taught her the importance of giving of herself and added that he was her inspiration all throughout her life. “I never met anyone with a bigger heart than my dad,” she said. 

For sophomore Kyle Bivens, the meaning of the word thankfulness can be tied directly back to the Rider community. Growing up under difficult circumstances in Philadelphia, he didn’t at first consider going to college. He took the SATs because his other classmates were doing so, but no one in his family, other than his grandmother, had ever attended college. Then he met Ida Tyson, associate director for Educational Opportunity Program at Rider, who visited his high school in South Philly. “She talked to us about college and the possibilities that it offered; not just at Rider, but in general,” he said. Her discussion inspired him, and he applied to six universities, was accepted into four of them, and chose Rider.   

Dana A. Lopes, assistant director for Student Support Services Program, explains that the annual event is meant to “give the Rider community an opportunity to unite in the spirit of Thanksgiving. It is our hope that the speeches inspire and challenge listeners to contemplate what they are most thankful for in their own lives.”

At the conclusion of the event, the Rev. Katie Mulligan, Chaplain, offered these closing remarks, “I hope you find kindness and courage and laughter as you go into this Thanksgiving holiday.”