India Student Association celebrates Festival of Lights

The front of the Union Ballroom was decorated with a few strings of white and blue lights, and orange and green streamers dotted with green and white balloons for the Indian Student Association’s annual Diwali Mela Saturday night.

Over four hundred people were in attendance, including various departments and organizations.

But the large crowd was no issue for one half of the emcee team and sophomore Sanjhi Gandhi.

“I … love public speaking,” said Gandhi. “I hosted the WSA International Dinner last year.”

Diwali, also called “The Festival of Lights,” is one of the largest and brightest festivals in India. Spiritually, it signifies the victory of good over evil.

The festivities began with the national anthems of both India and the United States, followed by a few words spoken by University Provost and Senior Vice President Rodney Rodgers.

“Events like this are why it’s so great to live in a college town,” he said.

Following the lighting of the ceremonial lamp, the Mahatma Gandhi Award was presented.

The award is presented to someone in the community who has “gone above and beyond their call of duty.”

The award was presented to University shuttle driver Fredrick John Smith.

Noted by emcee Sanjhi Gandhi, Smith has been driving the buses at the University for 32 years, even so much as to stop in the middle of routes on snowy nights to stop and pick up students.

“He will drive up to the steps if he can,” said Indian Student Association adviser Dr. Srinivas Melkote.

Wearing a traditional Scottish kilt, Smith thanked the other bus drivers for their support and said that he will be retiring from driving the shuttles.

During his speech, the ISA adviser told the audience that he had holding this celebration for 30 years.

He reminisced about the early years of the celebration before it took place in the Union and the food was homemade. Now, the celebration is catered by the University’s dining services, serving traditional Indian cuisines such as chicken curry, samosas, naan bread and kheer for dessert.

The end of the ceremony wrapped up with a fashion show, which showcased 2,500 years of Indian fashion.

Along with typical styles worn across India, the fashion show also included attire that was influenced by other cultures.

Special education major Gretta McMillen represented the country of France and the influence they had on India’s state Tamil Nadu.

“A very small fraction of me is French, so it excited me to dress this way,” she said.

McMillen has been a member of the Indian Student Association for almost a year, but this is her second time experiencing the University’s Diwali celebration.

Last year, she attended the celebration as a member of the audience. This year, she was one of the many fashion show participants who spent weeks rehearsing for the night.

“The dress rehearsals were fun because I was able to observe the other performers,” she said. “I am grateful to the ISA for the opportunity to participate …. I made friends and I really enjoyed myself.”

This article was originally published on Nov. 9, 2015 by independent student newspaper, The BG News, which can be found here.