President's 2018 Thanksgiving Message

November 20, 2018

Dear Carolina Students,

At our university, we have many rich Thanksgiving traditions, some of which you surely know, but some of which you likely don’t. 

Sure, there is the annual rivalry game on Saturday with Clemson and the Tiger Burn, but did you know that the Gamecocks used to play football on Thanksgiving Day and there was a different opponent every year? It was preceded by a dance held the evening before. The earliest reference to these traditions can be found in a 1913 issue of the Daily Gamecock. Gamecock football on Thanksgiving Day was a very big deal and, for that reason it was called “Big Thursday.”

Another important university Thanksgiving tradition is our commitment to supporting others. There are longstanding examples throughout our history of campus student and religious organizations holding services and raising funds for charities. This very week, I am so proud to note that many will help serve a Thanksgiving dinner to those who may be homeless or who are in need in other ways.

There is also another turkey tradition that was popular with 19th century students, but it wasn't exactly associated with Thanksgiving. “Turkey Stealing” was a prank in which USC students would sneak into the neighborhoods of Columbia at night to hijack turkeys and chickens from residents' yards. Sometimes the students would cook them, but often they would pluck them and return them to the yards alive but featherless! I’m not suggesting we restore that “tradition” in any way.  

Students, this year I have a suggestion that I can only hope might become a tradition for us and for our entire nation, even though it flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Everyone says that the Thanksgiving table is a dangerous place for political conversation. I don’t disagree, and in this time of polarization, it’s probably even more true. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about America.

I plan to talk about America at our family table this year … about America’s past, present and future … about what an incredible nation of heroes, innovators, philanthropists, artists, scientists, teachers and soldiers we’ve had, and about all those we still have. I plan to talk about how lucky we are to live here and that our future remains bright. I even plan to say that I’m encouraged by many things in present day America. At this point, some family members or friends at our table will disagree; some may even groan. 

If I do bring up sensitive issues, I won’t do so in the spirit of partisan politics and I’ll contend that we have had even greater problems in the past, yet we have overcome them.

Students, wouldn’t it be great if this Thanksgiving we didn’t avoid speaking about America today but we embraced it? Wouldn’t it be great if each of us was not red or blue but all of us were red, white and blue for a day? What better way to contribute to making our nation even better? That is my Thanksgiving wish for you and for America…that we celebrate our unique qualities and give thanks for our past, present and future.

One other thing, if it is at all possible, please consider inviting an international student or scholar who may be at Carolina this year to your Thanksgiving table. I’m often told by international students and faculty that their warmest memories of USC and the USA were about time spent with an American family at this time of year.

Patricia and I are excited to join our family in California later this week. We look forward to the sights and sounds of our children, their spouses, and our grandchildren, and of course, enjoying our favorite dessert … “peach gobbler!”

I hope you all enjoy this special time before the final push of the semester, and the opportunity to embrace old and new traditions. Remember to give thanks for your many blessings, as will I. And for me, you students are at the very top of my “blessings” list. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving my fellow Gamecocks!

Harris Pastides

turkey wearing a carolina sweater illustration