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Oct. 20, 2017
MARYVILLE, Mo. – Renewing a Homecoming tradition now two decades old, the Northwest Missouri State University community gathered today to celebrate its international community and diversity while raising the flags of its students’ home countries during the 20th Annual International Flag-Raising Ceremony.
“When we talk to students who are thinking about making a big change and coming to this part of the world to take up their studies, we tell them immediately that ‘you are not guests,’” Dr. Greg Haddock, associate provost of graduate studies and special programs, said during his opening remarks. “As soon as you apply and are accepted, you are already a Bearcat. You are a part of this community.”
Fittingly, Northwest’s Homecoming theme this year is “Around the World” – a theme, University President Dr. John Jasinski said, aligns with Northwest’s strategic goals of breaking down barriers; uplifting diversity, equity and inclusion; and practicing civility.
“Northwest is a vibrant campus because of our diversity,” Jasinski said. “Ideas are exchanged and lifetime connections are made. We’re proud to be an institution of learning for nearly 500 international graduate and undergraduate students from 31 countries. This inclusion allows all of our students – domestic and international – to have the opportunity to learn about people from around the globe.”
Jacquie Lamer, a senior instructor for mass media, reflected on some of her experiences with international students in her courses. She enjoys watching American students gain an international perspective for the first time and said faculty and staff are continuously learning, too.
Lamer picked up perhaps her most meaningful lesson from an international student when she asked a Saudi student what he liked about Northwest. Instead of mentioning the beautiful campus, the friendly people or the winning football team, the student replied enthusiastically, “I love black people.”
“I thought, ‘Wow, isn’t that cool?’” Lamer recalled. “This guy traveled thousands of miles. He left home and he came here, and he learned to love people who are different than himself. I think what I learned from that is it’s just good to break out of our comfort zones. It’s good to learn new things. It’s good to leave home once in a while.”
Northwest’s inaugural flag-raising ceremony in the fall of 1998 celebrated the completion of the Joyce and Harvey White International Plaza, which pays tribute to Northwest students and alumni who have come to the University from other nations. A granite Friends Wall, located prominently at the south entrance of the Flag Plaza to acknowledge all who supported the flag plaza project, features five clocks indicating the time in Maryville and four international time zones.
Representing Argentina, Agustin Velasco, a freshman finance major from San Luis, Argentina, had the privilege of raising the ceremony’s first flag. International students take turns raising their countries’ flags in alphabetical order during a roll call of nations.
“It’s so exciting,” Velasco said after raising his country’s flag. “I don’t think other universities or other places do this. The importance and the support that all international students have here is amazing.”
For many Northwest international students, participating in the ceremony is about more than raising a flag. They come in their native dress and sing songs in honor of their home countries.
Some, like Vasily Bukreev, a freshman exercise science major from of Sochi, Russia, are the only representative of their country, and that adds to the duty they feel when raising their flags.
“I feel like I have to represent my country on a high level in my look, my behavior and my grades,” he said. “I have to keep up with everything and I have to be a good international representative. When we have this kind of ceremony and Americans come and support international students, we feel like we are part of this group.
Egon Heidendal, Northwest’s director of institutional research, arrived at Northwest from The Netherlands in fall 2004 to study abroad. He returned for the 2005-06 academic year as an undergraduate and again from 2007 to 2009 to complete his master’s degree before transitioning to become a full-time staff member.
He last raised the Dutch flag 10 years ago and accepted the invitation to raise it during this year’s ceremony. While the flag-raising ceremony brings unity to the Northwest family each fall, Heidendal noted there was one more flag to be raised Saturday.
“When Bobby comes out at the football game with that (Northwest) flag, that’s what makes you feel at home because we’re all Bearcats,” he said. “We’re all from different countries and we learn from each other, but we’re all Bearcats. We’re one big family.”
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468