Last Sunday, visitors to Thomas More College’s Winter Open House were invited to join students and faculty for the annual Robert Burns Banquet. Celebrating the legacy of Scotland’s Bard, the College comes together each February to enjoy authentic Scottish fare and partake in the night’s traditional festivities.
After people took their seats in the candlelit cafeteria, their happy chatter was reverently hushed as Professor Thompson led the company in saying grace. Dr. Sara Kitzinger welcomed the College’s guests and introduced the evening’s theme, followed by the “Piping in of the Haggis”. Alumnus Bill Herreid struck a march on his bagpipes, and current freshman, Jonathan Kuplack solemnly carried in the banquet’s piece de resistance, the haggis. Much to the amusement of the company, senior Paul Guenzel delivered Burn’s poetic “Address to a Haggis.” A delicious spread of roast beef, cock-a-leekie soup, and fresh bread followed in turn.
While guests were still enjoying their supper, President Fahey came forward to deliver the customary Toast to the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns. “Why celebrate such a colorful character as Burns?” he asked. “It seems strange for a Catholic institution—at first.” After considering the roguish reputation of the Scottish Bard, he commended Burns as a great poet who wrote masterfully about deep and abiding human things.
Following this, junior Lucy Clark stepped up to give “A Toast Tae the Laddies of Thomas More.” This rhyming, playful jab at the male scholars of the College produced roars of laughter throughout the cafeteria. In defense, senior Joshua Keatley delivered a comical “Toast tae the Lassies.” The shouts of merriment accompanying these speeches were supplemented by a fabulous dessert of fresh shortbread. To crown off the first half of the evening, representatives of the freshmen Folk Music guild performed a rendition of “Ay Fond Kiss.”
As the banquet adjourned, the festivities continued with the annual Poetry Pub. The cozy nooks of the library’s Scholar’s Lounge were turned outwards to face a place set up for poetry recitation, and an open bar (for those of age) completed the literary atmosphere. As guests took their seats around the performance square, students came forward to compete for the much-vaunted prize scarves. Judged by Professors Fred Fraser and Amy Fahey, each current class had to present one humorous and one serious poem. Careful attention to memorization, posture, and delivery made the competition close.
Upsetting the current senior class’s ongoing record, the freshmen class carried the evening with Jonathan Kuplack’s performance of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Betrothed” and Paul Derham’s recital of Edgar Allen Poe’s “Annabel Lee.” After they were awarded the prize scarves, the evening’s official events came to a close. Unofficially, the festivities continued long into the night as students produced drums, guitars, flutes and fiddles for an impromptu session of traditional folk music—joined by a number of guests.
In the course of the academic year, banquets such as the Robert Burns Supper form an important part of student life at Thomas More College. If a true liberal education attends to the formation of the whole person, then these occasions provide a chance to reflect on such a formation by attending not only to the mind, but also to the body and spirit.