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WVU employee helps decorate White House for holidays

Photograph of WVU employee Mary Veselicky. She is standing in the lobby of the WVU Health Science buildings with three large white marble columns in the background. She is wearing red reindeer antlers and a festive apron.

Mary Veselicky, a program assistant in the WVU School of Dentistry, served as a volunteer decorator at the White House this holiday season. During her experience, Veselicky was assigned to the Comet group, and was provided with an official decorator apron and reindeer antlers headband to add to the festivities. (WVU Photo/Tyler Mertins)

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This holiday season, the work of a West Virginia University employee is on display at the White House. Mary Veselicky, a program assistant in the WVU School of Dentistry Department of Periodontics, had the opportunity to spread Mountaineer spirit and Christmas cheer as a volunteer decorator. 

“I have always enjoyed decorating our house for the holidays with my mom, especially at Christmas,” she said. “The thought of helping decorate the White House was almost too fabulous to believe it would be possible.”

After learning about the opportunity to be a volunteer decorator while watching “White House Christmas” on the HGTV network, Veselicky decided to apply. Little did she know, she would soon be on set while the 2023 television special was being filmed.

On Thanksgiving Day, Veselicky traveled to Washington to spend the weekend decorating rooms throughout the White House with “Magic, Wonder and Joy,” a theme inspired by how children experience the festive season. The beloved children’s book “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” which marked its 200th anniversary, complemented this year’s theme and served as inspiration for many of the displays.

Volunteers from across the United States started their experience with breakfast in the State Dining Room followed by orientation with the White House Visitors Office where they were placed into smaller work groups named after Santa’s reindeer. After donning her official decorator apron and reindeer antlers headband, Veselicky and her Comet group made their way to the East Room to begin transforming it for the holiday season.

“In the East Room, I helped with the garland that was placed all around the mirrors and mantels,” she said. “There were clusters of red, green and gold bulbs and I helped put those clusters together in the garland.”

Over the next two days, the Comet group moved into the White House Library for decorations which celebrate bedtime stories and returned to the East Room for finishing touches. While working in the Library, she met Drew Scott, host of “Property Brothers” and “White House Christmas 2023” on HGTV, and she had the opportunity to work with members of First Lady Jill Biden’s family.

Once all the trees were trimmed, garland was hung and ribbons were tied, and the White House was filled with “Magic, Wonder and Joy,” Veselicky and her fellow volunteers joined the First Lady for a reception.

“Monday was a really fun day,” she recalled. “The U.S. Marine Band, which is considered the President’s band, played Christmas carols. When I was walking in, the Marine Band was playing my maternal grandmother’s favorite Christmas song, ‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.’ She passed away before I was born, but when I heard that song, I felt like she was with me.

“Jill Biden thanked us for all we did in making the White House look so beautiful for Christmas. We got our picture taken with our group and the First Lady who met us each individually and shook our hands.”

Throughout the experience, Veselicky embraced the President and First Lady’s message of being present in the moment and having a heart open to the magic, wonder and joy of the holidays. In a few short days, she became friends with people from across the country and developed a close bond with members of the Comet group.

“I wasn’t expecting to become such a close-knit group, like a family,” she said. “I felt like I created some amazing friendships. Being in the White House, meeting new people, making new friends — I would love to have this experience again.”



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