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Professor Welcomes Members of Saint Peter’s College Community to His Home on Thanksgiving

Each year, David S. Surrey, Ph.D., professor and chairman of Saint Peter’s College Sociology and Urban Studies Department, opens up his home in Montclair, N.J. to members of the College community to join him and his family and friends as they celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. With the help of multiple individuals and departments, the holiday promises to be a warm and memorable experience for those who attend. In some cases, Dr. Surrey’s celebration introduces students from all over the world to the annual American custom of “giving thanks.” This “Q&A” session with Dr. Surrey provides insight into why he has continued this long tradition.

What year did you begin opening up your home on Thanksgiving?

Probably about 25 years ago with Robert Perry, who previously served as the director of minority affairs at Saint Peter’s College, and his family. Each year, we would alternate houses. About ten years ago, we started having the celebration exclusively in my home.

How many students typically attend Thanksgiving at your home?

It varies – last year and two years ago there were 50 students, but one year only 30. Also, other members of the Saint Peter’s community will join us, as well as several graduate students from CUNY (The City University of New York) where my partner, Michelle Fine, teaches.

Are those who attend mostly international students?

Yes, some of those who attend come to Saint Peter’s from as far as Nepal and Bulgaria, but several students from as close as Newark, Montclair and West Orange also join us. A few Saint Peter’s College alumni as well.

Why do you continue to do this each year?

Why not? Partially it is a long tradition in my own family. My father taught at a small college in Missouri, and we opened up our home on many occasions to students who had no place to go, including on Thanksgiving.

Also, by the time I was in college, my parents were deceased and I know what it is like to not have a place to go for the holiday. Finally, it is really consistent with what Saint Peter’s stands for; Thanksgiving is only one example of what several members of the College community do in their own ways on other occasions.

Who is in charge of preparing dinner?

Michelle and I share it.

Some members of the College community contribute food, even when they do not come for the holiday, such as Dr. Jennifer Ayala in our Education Department and Dr. Leonor Lega in the Psychology Department. Others have assisted financially, such as Professor Kevin Leeds from our Accountancy Department and Mary DiNardo from the Vice President of Academic Affairs’ Office, as well as Mary Carroll from our on-campus bookstore and Sharon Morrissey from the Office of Advancement. The Department of Athletics and Student Life also help by lending us vans to allow transportation for the from the Jersey City campus to my home.

What have highlights been in past years?

Setting the stove on fire three years ago was really cool – those drip pans that have the message "do not put on the bottom of oven" are not kidding. Also, I recall dropping a brisket on the floor and having the students still eat it.

Having international students sing to my 95-year-old mother-in-law and having my 95-year-old mother-in-law tell the international students she was 39.

Students sharing their own holiday traditions with each other, and watching students from all over the world relax with each other. Knowing this is an opportunity for students and other members of the College community to get a chance to know each other, and this carries over beyond Thanksgiving Day.

Watching a student who actually had learned how to play the piano on the computer, play beautifully on the real thing for the first time.

Not having to watch the Detroit Lions on television!