Thanksgiving 2020 – From President Blake

Our 2020 pandemic year forces us to re-think many of our assumptions and priorities. Indeed, this week’s Thanksgiving Holiday may appear incongruous and sit awkwardly with what we have experienced globally this year.

Certainly, 2020 has disrupted much of what we value, depend upon and cherish. For over a quarter of a million American families, it is a year of palpable grief and loss. For millions of others, it has been a year of fear and illness. It has been a year of political divisiveness at new heights and a time when broad anger at social and racial injustice has erupted across the country. Here at Middle Georgia State University, it has been a year of difficulty for our students and our employees; one of much change, frustration and the disappointment of losing the proximity and intimacy of others around our campuses. Our virtual Commencements this year are indeed a shadow of the usual graduation celebrations, in which we gather together in joy. That loss of communal experience is being mirrored, of course, all over the nation and the world.

In short, it is easy to view Thanksgiving as not fitting well into this particular year. I hope we resist that temptation. Indeed, this is the best time to “count our blessings” and dig deep into the well of gratitude. We can all say a collective “thank you” – and I hope we will soon get to do it safely in person – to the frontline workers in this pandemic, to the health professionals fighting to make patients healthy, to the scientists and researchers racing to develop a reliable vaccination, to the grocery and store workers who interact with the public every day, to the troops and workers organizing mass testing and food distriubution, to the educators teaching students in constricted environments, and to the families who have kept the economy and their home lives moving forward with extraordinary patience and diligence. These are some of the silver linings of this COVID-19 pandemic – people who are real and who deserve our respect and gratitude. Here at MGA we have done our part too, and for that I am especially thankful to our students and employees. We are about to graduate the second group of the Class of 2020, whose heroic efforts to cross the finish line have been enabled in no small part by the superb work of their faculty and staff. We have been forced to re-appraise our work-life balance and priorities, and have reached out to help our families, children, friends and strangers in different ways. We do not want this pandemic to continue forever, but we should not forget those things we discovered that were good and life-affirming in this otherwise dystopian year. My grandmother learned to “count her blessings” at the time of the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919, and her attitude is one that resonates well for me this week.

In a way, the Thanksgiving story that I learned when I first immigrated to the US has always had something of the same sort of paradoxical backdrop. The indigenous peoples who assisted the Europeans in their survival during the early colonial years showed that when we build the Common Good through shared collective efforts, we have much for which and many towards whom we should be thankful. While history has tragically reframed the actual experience of the indigenous people in the “first Thanksgiving,” the story still provides a timely reminder this year of how we can be deeply thankful to those around us as we face hardships and challenges.  

I thank you for your work this past Fall semester, in the most challenging of times, and I wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy Thanksgiving break.