BERRIEN SPRINGS — A different kind of Thanksgiving celebration takes place every year at Berrien Springs High School.

Students and staff take time on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to celebrate the school’s cultural diversity. Thanks to the influence of Andrews University bringing people from all over the world, Berrien Springs schools welcome students from over three dozen foreign countries every year.

On Wednesday, students paraded flags of 40 nations at the start of the Cultural Awareness Assembly at Berrien Springs High School, with the school district Shamrock flag coming in at the end.

“Today we come together in unity and celebrate as Rock Nation,” Assistant Principal Alan Alsbro said.

The high school hosts a large school assembly every other year and this year was again the time for the assembly filled with student vocal and dance performances.

Last year, the focus was on classroom presentations showcasing world cultures and veterans’ memories.

“I think of the first Thanksgiving and this one with all our international students,” High School Principal Ryan Pesce said. “What we have here is a true melting pot. One of the most unique features of Berrien Springs is the family environment we have. We have such a blending of cultures and respect where students have the opportunity to be proud of who they are and where they come from.”

For students, the assembly is a chance to honor their cultures and perform before classmates – whether it was a group of five girls performing African dances or world drumming students showing off the skills, they learned in a new high school class this fall.

Juniors Betsy Mngo and Tapiwaso Chitaya were among those taking part in the African dancing. They’ve been rehearsing and practicing since October. Their families are from Malawi and Cameroon.

“It means a lot to me and my family to have our culture recognized,” Tapiwaso said. “There’s so much diversity here, we get to learn about faraway cultures … I performed two years ago with my sister and cousins, it’s kind of a tradition for me.”

“It makes you feel united with people from other countries. Days like today allow me to teach others about my culture. Some people don’t know about my country. It’s also a chance for me to learn about other cultures,” Betsy added.

Senior Jada Willis is the co-founder of the high school’s Black Student Association which discusses different issues and advocates for minorities.

She, Betsy and Tapiwaso sang the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” at the start of the assembly and she also went out on the gym floor with other students at the end of the African dances.

“This assembly makes us really appreciate what we have here at the high school,” Jada said.