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The Northwest community gathered to celebrate the University's annual Holiday Tree Lighting on Nov. 18. (Photos by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

The Northwest community gathered to celebrate the University's annual Holiday Tree Lighting on Nov. 18. (Photos by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

Nov. 19, 2021

Northwest celebrates holiday, diversity, inclusion during annual tree lighting

The Northwest Missouri State University community gathered Thursday night around the Memorial Bell Tower for its annual Holiday Tree Lighting and welcomed the season with a celebration of diversity.

The annual event, begun in 2009 and hosted by Northwest President Dr. John Jasinski and first lady Denise Jasinski and their family, helps to usher in the holiday season at the University and celebrates the traditions of varied cultures.  

“Denise and I talk a lot about spreading love and spreading cheer,” President Jasinski said. “There are so many differences in the world and so much strife. We encourage you to put that aside and celebrate the similarities that we all have together and spread cheer.”

The tree lighting ceremony highlighted the connections of Northwest students to a variety of religions. Students representing the Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim faiths placed symbols of their religious cultures on the tree as expressions of their identities.

Jessie Peter, Northwest’s senior coordinator of diversity, noted a star holds value among all cultures and most commonly symbolizes excellence.

“When I look at the star on the holiday tree, I think it reflects us,” Peter said. “We have gathered here from different walks of life, with varied experiences and beliefs, overcome numerous adversities and today stand together as Bearcats, a demonstration of inclusive excellence.”

Peter added, “This time of the year is set aside by many to celebrate and enjoy with family, friends and colleagues. During the season, we have the opportunity to learn about other cultures and holiday traditions. Whether you’re celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, Diwali, Kwanzaa, the Lunar new year, Las Posadas, the end of the year, other cultural and religious practices, or no cultural or religious practices, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion wishes you all happy holidays.”

Student Senate President Bailey Hendrickson reflected on the meaning and memories Christmas holds for her while also encouraging members of the Northwest community to recognize other holiday traditions and uplift people who may be struggling.

“We have the ability to gather around those who struggle during the holiday season,” Hendrickson said. “This is what makes Northwest great. Not only does this University focus on caring for members of our Bearcat family, we also are growing together by learning, connecting, practicing civility, and showing pride.”

Maryville Mayor Ben Lipiec encouraged reflection during the holiday season on progress and positive memories of the year. He also provided gratitude for the city’s tradition of cooperation with Northwest to grow both the campus and the community, most notably the Fourth Street Improvement Project and the Carl and Cheryl Hughes Fieldhouse.   

“These combined efforts to accomplish improvements wouldn’t have happened without a tradition of partnership and working together,” Lipiec said. “To everyone that has been a part of this ongoing effort of progress, I thank you. It is you, the people, that make up the body and give feet to these organizations. It is you, the people, through these organizations that supply the dedication and hard work that has brought us to where we are today.”

In addition, the Madraliers provided vocal music selections during the ceremony. “Santa Bobby Bearcat” was on hand to greet guests and pose for photos inside the J.W. Jones Student Union where attendees enjoyed refreshments after the ceremony.

The Jasinski family annually selects a philanthropy in conjunction with the tree lighting and invites giving to the Bearcat Food Pantry. Community members may find needed items and provide donations to the food pantry throughout the year by visiting


Dr. Mark Hornickel
Administration Building
Room 215