President's Thanksgiving message to students
Nov. 20, 2017
Dear Carolina Students,
Happy Thanksgiving to you! I know that, like me, you are eagerly anticipating this holiday. Patricia and I will be with our children and grandchildren and I hope that many of you will be with family and friends. I also hope that those in our international community will find an invitation to participate in this special American holiday.
No holiday is more associated with a big dinner, including plenty of turkey, trimmings and desserts. The Thanksgiving meal almost begs for some overindulgence ... and even a post-meal nap ... how welcome is that in a world that pushes us to be careful and restrained about what we eat most every other day of the year? But there's something else that draws me to Thanksgiving. It's a day that we come together in spite of our differences in religion, political affiliation and in who we root for in the annual football rivalry game on the Saturday that follows! It is a day to find common ground and to cherish our national identity and values ... sort of like the Fourth of July but created to celebrate our commonalities and give thanks for our nation, our forebears and our loved ones. In fact, Thanksgiving became a national holiday by decree of President Lincoln in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, as a way to "heal the wounds of the nation."
Unfortunately, it's much easier in today's world to identify our differences than our commonalities as Americans. Nearly every "news" show emphasizes debate and derision. Simply put, compromise and agreement doesn't sell. All of this spills over into our personal lives and our college campus too. We are quick to assign labels to ourselves and to others and these labels act as boundaries that separate us. The truth is that labels rarely describe an individual fully or accurately. We are complex individuals and we often defy the stereotypes that are ascribed to us.
Early this semester I asked a new student how things were going and she told me she was going to file for a change of roommate. She said that her roommate was "just different" and some of her ideas about what she wanted out of college seemed to be strange. I suggested that she give it a little more time since there was still ample time left to file for a change of room. Wouldn't you know that a few days later they had settled into a comfortable relationship ... in her words they were now friends. Since one of the students is international and may not be able to travel home, I hope that they might spend this Thanksgiving together.
I want to be clear that "finding common ground" does not require changing your beliefs or opinions. But in the face of even significant disagreement, it's about stretching a bit to find some area of agreement, even if small. That small area can then become the basis for moving ahead. Seeking agreement through compromise will be as important to you in the workplace and in marriage as it will be with your roommates and friends. Ideology is important but it is a tough way to navigate a relationship. It's been said that "ideology knows the answer before the question has been asked." That can be a formula for a disastrous relationship.
So, enjoy this welcome break before you return to a strong finish, academically. I hope that you find crisp, dry weather and some down time. Stay safe, eat a little extra, enjoy some special treats, and savor a snooze in your favorite chair...but not while we compete in our annual football rivalry game. That is not a time for compromise. Go Gamecocks!