• President’s Table Dinner, Nov. 17, 2017

Five years ago, President Burger introduced a new tradition when he arrived at Southwestern. It’s a unique and special opportunity, and one that all students can look forward to participating in their senior year: The President’s Table Dinner.

The President’s Table Dinner

President Burger regularly hosts small dinner parties at his home on the edge of campus, where students, faculty, staff and honored guests spend an evening engaged in robust conversation over dinner and dessert. His long dining table, which seats eighteen, creates an intimate environment that allows for connecting with peers in a way that isn’t always possible inside a classroom.

By the time they graduate, every single SU student will have been invited to dine with the President at the Turner Fleming House. What a wonderful and memorable college experience!

I had the honor of attending a recent dinner, along with an impressive group of students, another staff member, a faculty member, and Texas House Representative Terry Wilson, who attended as a special guest of Dr. Burger. The evening was both amazing and enlightening.

Meaningful & Engaging Conversation

As the guests arrived, we had a little time to mingle and chat before shifting to the dining room, where everyone found their name cards and took their seats. Dr. Burger welcomed us and set the stage for an engaging evening, easing any potential nerves by encouraging everyone to be themselves, interact, and most of all – have fun!

The conversations flowed easily. Although the guest list is chosen at random, many students knew each other from classes or campus activities. One of the things I love about Southwestern is its commitment to diversity – not only of race, gender, sex, etc. -  but also the diversity of thought. I loved watching students from all different majors - political science, education, theater, business, biochemistry – coming together to spend an evening engaged in conversation and reflection.

Another thing that stood out to me – no cell phones! When was the last time you went to dinner with eighteen people and no one looked at their phone? No one was taking selfies, Instagramming their food, or Snapchatting their roommate. In fact, the only phone I saw the entire night was when President Burger took a picture of the table so he could add it the framed photos of previous groups displayed in the living room. Which means that instead of focusing on the outside world, for those few hours we focused on each other and truly enjoyed the time together.

Topic of the Night

At every President’s Table dinner, President Burger proposes a question or topic to the group, further facilitating purposeful conversation and participation. The topics are always different, and the catch is that everyone is required to contribute. This particular night, because it was near Thanksgiving, President Burger asked us to share a personal story or reflection of gratitude.

Hearing the wide range of responses was my favorite part of the evening. Every story was different but meaningful in its own way. There was laughter, knowing nods, and I may or may not have seen a few tears when one student shared a personal and inspiring story about his younger brother.

Metaphor for Southwestern

In a way, The President’s Table Dinners are a metaphor for Southwestern, where everyone contributes and brings something to the table. We were a diverse group with different interests and backgrounds, but we respected, listened and learned from each other. We all left a little better for the time spent together.

President Burger told our group that these dinners are one of the highlights of his job. “No matter what type of day I’ve had – and in the job, there are really great days and some pretty tough days – if there’s a President’s Table Dinner I know it will end well.”  You could tell by the way he greeted, interacted and talked with each guest that he meant it.

Before we left, President Burger encouraged us to remember that for a time, we came together and shared. The President’s Table Dinner has become a meaningful tradition for all Southwestern students.

By: Emily O’Shaughnessy