Thanksgiving: What now represents my favorite holiday — a four-day weekend with my family and a time to cook and consume food I love with people I love — has not always been so rosy. Like many holidays, Thanksgiving is complicated, full of warmth for some and anxiety for others.
I think back to my college years and recall a slew of diverse and somewhat contradictory emotions about Thanksgiving.
I reflect on my freshman year of college, way back in the late ’80s. As transitions to college go, mine was fairly easy. Despite general happiness in my new world, I was itching to go home for my first college Thanksgiving holiday. I went to school close to my hometown, so unlike many, getting home for the holiday was easy.
I had seen my parents a few times since my departure. Because I went to school close to home, they had visited campus a few times to take me out to dinner and attend a football game. So while I was looking forward to spending time with them, I was most excited to see my beloved high school friends.
Because I went to college eons before social media existed and nearly a decade before anyone had a cell phone, students knew far less then about how their friends were faring at college than they do now.
I communicated with old friends through phone calls on landlines. However, long-distance phone calls were expensive, so it was more difficult to stay in touch then compared to now. Hence, Thanksgiving was a time of temperature-reading — gauging how our adjustment stacked up next to our former high school classmates.
This phenomenon unsettled me during my first college Thanksgiving. Then, after returning to campus, I experienced a stronger feeling of longing for my high school posse than I had previously.
When I left for break, I considered myself a happy, well-adjusted new college student. When I returned to school less than a week later, I missed my high school friends intensely. Spending time with friends who knew me so well and whom I had known for so long caused me to feel unsettled when I returned to campus, in a way that I hadn’t just a short week earlier.
And then there was my family.
Logically, my parents — who were fairly lenient and trusted my judgment — understood they had no idea what time I returned to my dorm on Saturday nights. So why did they feel that it was appropriate to set a curfew for the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend? And why did I feel like, even if they hadn’t, it would be inappropriate for me to stay out until the wee hours of the morning while at home?
Life changes swiftly for college students. Rules that made sense just three months ago seem nonsensical and can disrupt the strongest of parent-child relationships.
Your own views on certain subjects may have changed dramatically since leaving home. As such, navigating conversations with parents, siblings and grandparents during Thanksgiving dinner may pose all sorts of new obstacles.
As challenging and sometimes difficult as these new tensions may be, they are normal — predictable and appropriate, even. Don’t be rattled if, despite great anticipation, returning home isn’t entirely easy.
We also shouldn’t forget those Georgetown students who will not return home for Thanksgiving. Many live far from home — perhaps thousands of miles away, even in another country — and travelling this much for less than a week at home simply isn’t viable.
For many, the break may loom long and lonely. Those who did not grow up in the United States may not care about the holiday of Thanksgiving and find it difficult to immerse themselves in an environment in which normal life grinds to a halt to honor this centuries-old American tradition.
As with so many elements of your college years, there will be highs and lows associated with Thanksgiving. Embrace what comes your way. Get some extra sleep, catch up on a little work and focus on at least one thing in your life for which you are grateful. After all, it is Thanksgiving.
Sarah Shohet is an assistant dean of academic affairs in the School of Nursing and Health Studies. This is the final installment of From the Dean’s Desk.