Short and nail-bitingly close to finals, Thanksgiving break is seldom festive for students spending the vacation on campus. International students and those who don’t want to spend half of their break traveling are often left without a way to celebrate. To remedy this, Director of Interna- tional Services Andrew Meade and his wife, Lila Meade, open up their home every year, hosting a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for as many as 50 to 100 students and alums.
Meade said of the event, “This is our family’s favorite day of the year! All four of us–Lila, Kristen, Lily and me–look forward so much to this day. It is a unique and special opportunity for members of the internationalcommunity to create a feast, and most importantly, to create community for one another (and guests). It is a day of love and joy, plus an awful lot of hard work. It is a day that can create spaces of ‘home’ for internationals.”
Together with volunteer helpers, the Meade family presented their 11th Thanksgiving dinner this year on Nov. 24.
Meade explained the history of this annual event, saying, “The first year  we had friends come over to help do the cooking, and I think we had about 30 international students come. The next year, these friends had all moved away but we decided there was no way we weren’t inviting internationals!” So it became a tradition that students would arrive at their house early to prepare the feast along with the Meades.
Being part of the “Early Early Bird team,” Xiaoting Hu ’20 of Wuhan, China, and several others arrived at the Meades on Thanksgiving Eve. They labored until 2 a.m., preparing exquisite hors d’oeuvres, entrees and 19 different types of desert. Hu cheerfully explained, “One of my favorite parts of the preparation is when the cooking teams (all great chefs!) gathered around the kitchen table in pairs, making all kinds of desserts.”
She reminisced on their hard work and the sense of accomplishment they all felt. “The sweet fragrance of cranberry sauce filled the air, soon joined by the homey scent of pies. After one dessert was done, chefs moved on to the next one on the menu; time escaped [us] while we chatted and the oven beeped. We were tired but so, so happy.”
Meade commented, “[It] is an evening of creation, as the few in the room imagine together making so much yummy food and joy with everyone who is to come the next day.”
The Meades’ home, elegantly decorated with Haitian art, has a magical power of bonding everyone within. Hu recounted, “At first we felt a bit timid and nervous, but such feeling dispersed quickly; the house was brimming with so much love and warmth that it made you feel most welcome and feel at home.”
Ally Fernandez ’18 from Puerto Rico shared the same feeling, saying, “I was in the van with a bunch of people who I didn’t really know besides Andrew, but the amazing thing was by the time we were all cooking together like an hour later, we were laughing and talking like best friends! It was just such a warm environment, and felt so much like a home.”
Moreover, Meade acknowledged that one of the special factors of this tradition is that international alums come every year.
He reported, “This year we had an alum from the class of 2006, one from 2009, one from 2011, one from 2014 and three from 2015. It’s an opportunity for current students to connect with their slightly older peers, and it also sends the message (to us as well) that it is possible to return!”
Alumna Manning Wu ’14 noted, “It was really good to see the Meades, who I have been close to in the past years since freshman year. It is always a good time with them and the rest of the Vassar community.”
The Meades not only open their home and share this special holiday with international students, but also extend their welcome to domestic students, as well as their friends and loved ones. Phuong Pham came from London to visit her boyfriend at Vassar. She also found home at the Meades.
She said, “I was first a stranger to the Meades, but that feeling only lasted a short while. Andrew and Lila welcomed me and everyone else as parts of the family. Their kind hearts made us all immediately feel at home. By the afternoon of the day we were friends who had known each other well enough to make jokes out of each other and to feed each other what we had proudly made.”
Pham, who assumed the role of the head chef, reported that she thoroughly enjoyed working with other volunteers. “Undeniably certain that we all just first met for a few hours, however, by miracle, food brought us together. We failed and achieved together as we went from one adventure to another, from googling how many teaspoons of ground sage equaling 12 leaves, to stuffing six turkey breasts, to an unimaginably early morning wake-up call by Biso, the adorable house cat.”
She continued, “The most unforgettable moment to me is the time I spent with everyone in the house, the emotions I shared with them, the gratefulness we brought to the others and the love we believed and built together. There are billions of people on this planet, I am lucky enough to meet everyone [here in this room].”
Meade concluded, “[It’s] a co-creation. It is about a whole lot of people coming together to make something special for one another, to work really hard so that others will benefit.”
Guests all showed gratitude towards the hos- pitality of the Meades. Hu expressed, “I feel so lucky that I spent my very first Thanksgiving at the Meades; it is definitely one of my best memories so far at Vassar. Seeing all the people enjoy their food and have fun chatting with each other, I could not help but feel thankful towards my life, family, friends and all the people who had made a beautiful difference in my life. I was so happy that I was there.”
An important part of the evening was when the entire house gathered in the living room, sharing genuine emotions of love and appreciation. Meade described these precious moments: “Our hour of sharing between dinner and dessert is special in that it gives everyone (all 60 of us) a chance to hear from everyone else. Everyone gets a voice, and has the chance to offer appreciations.”
Guests were inspired by the Meades’ spirit of generosity and kindness. Tissues were passed around the room as many shed tears of joy.
Fernandez commented, “It was really amazing, because I had a hard time with the concept of Thanksgiving because of the violent history of the holiday, but that was acknowledged and we made it all our own, which was so beautiful.
“My home is so far away, and I spent a lot of time leading up to Thanksgiving feeling sorry for myself about it, but when the day came around I really had the opportunity to meditate on my blessings and how truly lucky I am to have these kinds of people in my life. And the thought of being able to come back after years and years just fills me with so much hope and joy.”
Pham summarized the Thanksgiving spirit: “Crazy amount of carbs and protein were loaded into our bodies but who cared—Thanksgiving is only once a year while the gym opens mostly every day.”