An evolving tradition: Hopkins students, faculty members, administrators gather for annual High Table dinner

First-year student Maya Foster has stage fright. But that fear did not keep the class senator from delivering the "Thanksgiving" remarks at the annual High Table event on Tuesday night.

Among a gym full of her peers, Foster described her feelings of gratitude toward the Johns Hopkins University community during the fall semester. She encouraged her classmates to spend the evening exchanging ideas, meeting new people, and enjoying dinner with their JHU family.

"Transitioning to college is kind of hard," Foster said. "The people and the environment here at Hopkins were very supportive, and I'm thankful for that because it has made my experience a lot better."

High Table is a tradition that reflects old Oxford and Cambridge dining styles. First-year students join robed faculty members and administrators for a three-course meal at long, elegant tables.

Tuesday night's menu featured an assortment of dinner rolls, Caesar salad with brioche croutons and marinated herb tomatoes, chicken scaloppini with three-cheese macaroni and vegetables, and tiramisu. Vegetarians and vegans feasted on a polenta cake with eggplant marinara. An informal coffee hour followed the dinner with locally sourced drinks and a variety of toppings.

Event organizers transformed the O'Connor Recreation Center gym with black drapery, gold chairs and glassware, and photos of past university presidents. Coordinators of the Women of Hopkins project partnered with the High Table planning committee this year to include portraits of minority and female JHU community members along the walls of the gym. The new addition, JHU President Ronald J. Daniels said, showed that Hopkins traditions are "capable of evolution."

Daniels said during his toast that the dinner was meant to be a time for sitting down and talking without a particular agenda. Faculty and students could discuss immigration under the new presidential administration, geopolitics, and climate change, he said, or ponder momentous issues such as "whether Beyoncé got robbed of Album of the Year, or what really happened on Sunday at the Oscars."

For some students, the night offered a chance to venture outside of their comfort zones and spend time with professors in a non-academic setting.

"Students often develop a fear of faculty members and it's really important to break that down," said Travis Olson, coordinator for leadership development for Homewood Student Affairs and a faculty member at the Center for Leadership Education. "They often don't think they can interact with faculty members … in that less formal way, [but] it's important to developing mentor relationships."

The event is made possible by the support of the Hopkins Parents Fund.