For the first time at USC, some students who stayed on campus this Thanksgiving shared dinner at the president’s house with the leader of the university.
Seven trams left the University Park Campus on Thursday night to take 350 students to the president’s house in San Marino, Calif., which President C. L. Max Nikias and his family had moved into three days earlier.
For many students, this was the only Thanksgiving dinner they had available, said Sharon Kim, a sophomore from Portland, Ore., majoring in psychology and occupational therapy.
“I was really glad to have this, because I didn’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving dinner,” she said. “It’s a great way for people to meet each other and to spend time with people from school you don’t know.”
Opening the president’s home to students was the idea of First Lady Niki Nikias, who said she was accustomed to hosting USC students for Thanksgiving dinner.
“If my daughters wanted to bring a few friends who had nowhere else to go, I would tell them, ‘Have them come over; there’s always plenty of food.’ So that’s how the idea came about because I knew we were going to be in the president’s house, and I wanted to follow this tradition that we had,” she said.
The Nikias family felt strongly that it was important to give students on campus a home and family for Thanksgiving, said Georgiana Nikias, a USC law student and one of the president’s two daughters.
“There’s nothing like a home-cooked meal. So I think that’s what my mom was thinking — that Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy a really good meal, sit down and be lazy. You don’t do any homework; you just relax,” she said.
The decision to open the president’s home was unanimous.
“We love the company,” said Maria Nikias, a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. “We know how important food is — good food — on Thanksgiving.”
Formally dressed students entered the mansion in a single line, where each shook hands with the president and his family. Tables were set up in the backyard under a canopy, where servers poured hibiscus lemonade for sitting students.
“I feel like I’m at a wedding,” said Chris Wang, a freshman majoring in biochemical engineering.
In his brief welcoming remarks, Nikias introduced his family and invited the attendees to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner buffet, which included roast wild turkey with gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, squash ravioli, corn bread and onion flatbread.
In his second speech after dinner, President Nikias talked about the importance of Thanksgiving. He spoke of the origins of Thanksgiving, its history and various traditions, from sending a pardoned turkey to Disneyland to planning the next day’s shopping spree.
But he also sought to highlight the meaning of Thanksgiving.
“It reminds us of what is best in us, what is most humble, what is most human,” he said. “It reminds us of what we most value, and it reminds us to be grateful for how interconnected we all are.”
Most of all, he emphasized the importance of family at Thanksgiving.
“More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is about family, and today you are our family. We are all one family here: the Trojan Family. It is a warm and loving community that runs across the continent and across generations,” President Nikias said. “So today the Nikias family expresses its true appreciation for what you bring to the larger Trojan Family, which binds us together.”
After dinner, a dessert spread of pumpkin pie, ginger cookie cream sandwiches and fudge brownies was served with warm apple cider.
“Dinner was amazing,” said Sunit Rohant, a senior majoring in narrative studies and biological sciences. “I’m not quite done yet with my first plate. They announced you could go up for seconds and thirds, but I don’t think I’ll be able to finish this.”
The Trojan Family, a well-known theme of USC rhetoric, was a common conversation topic that night.
“I’m really glad that he invited all these students here because it just reinforces the idea of the Trojan Family, where we’re actually having a family dinner together on Thanksgiving,” Rohant said. “We went around in a circle and said what we were thankful for and it just reinforces it.”
President Nikias advised students to be thankful for the Trojan Family.
“Students’ years at USC are the years they have to take advantage of what there is to offer, much more than what they are learning in the classroom or the courses they take. Also they have to form these relationships and friendships with students from other parts of the country and other parts of the world because these relationships could stay with them for the rest of their lives,” he said in his speech. “And that’s what the Trojan Family is all about.”
And what is the president thankful for this Thanksgiving?
“I feel blessed because the very best job in higher education today is to be president of this university, and I’m very thankful for that.”