Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, a genuinely American holiday, a family holiday. It is also an especially welcome holiday on college campuses, providing a much-needed extended weekend after a long semester and immediately before the onslaught of final papers, presentations, clinical reports, exams--performances of all kinds!
Since my arrival at Alvernia 5 ½ years ago, I have been impressed by the capacity of our students for gratitude—for thanksgiving of all kinds. Rather than espousing a sense of entitlement, as is the case on some campuses, they appreciate what Alvernia offers. Perhaps they are following the lead of the many fellow students, staff, and faculty who express their sense of thanksgiving regularly through service.
Timely reminders of these admirable attitudes came for me at three recent student dinners—two with lively groups of freshmen and one with our impressive staff of resident assistants. Junior and seniors cite the benefits of significant improvements in academic and student life since they arrived on campus. Several had classes currently in the Upland Center or in the renovated portions of Bernardin Hall; some had competed on one of the new athletic fields. A few remarked on the transformation of the BH lecture hall from a dreary cavernous space to a appealing, high-tech venue and were delighted that an Educational Technology Center was scheduled for construction this summer. And many felt fortunate to live in the new student apartments.
The freshmen spoke enthusiastically about the “quad,” that great green gathering place in center campus, and expressed amazement it had once been a parking lot! Some were especially excited about the new FH Theater and Recital Hall. But they were especially animated when expressing appreciation for Alvernia’s people. Besides the overall friendliness of their fellow students, they cited caring and attentive staff in Admissions and the Registrar’s Offices, faculty who had helped confirm their choice of major or who had provoked serious reflection through philosophy or theology courses.
Alumni, of course, express their appreciation tinged with warm nostalgia or--as one whom I met on an airplane did recently--the rueful acknowledgement that they could have taken fuller advantage of their time as a college student. But even more than current students, alumni are thankful for the people who made a difference for them. Hall of Fame inductees thank coaches and athletic trainers as well as teammates. Those celebrated with our top awards, like Dr. Josephine Elia ’75 and Dominic Murgido ’79, recall teachers. (For Elia and Murgido, alums from Alvernia’s early years, these teachers were most often Sisters.) This gratitude is profound and expressed movingly: teachers and staff quite simply changed lives, often by calling students to a level of personal excellence they thought beyond them, personally and professionally.
Thanksgiving. Just the name of the holiday demands more-than-the-usual self-reflection, what those of us old enough to remember recall as our “examination of conscience.” Gratitude is impossible without humility regarding our gifts, our need for others, our shortcomings, our faults. And at Alvernia, genuine thanksgiving also means action. There are countless projects throughout the year, but a unique tradition is celebrated each November. For 23 years, Polly Mathys and John Luvisi have teamed up to lead a turkey drive, assisted this year by Francis, their four-foot high stuffed turkey! The need seems--and is--bigger each year, greater demands on food banks, more homeless people. And each year, members of the Alvernia community respond overwhelmingly.
So as we anticipate 2011, let us be grateful for the gifts and opportunities and people in our lives. Let us be conscious of our shortcomings and seek to remedy them. Let us be inspired to serve. And let us reflect on why we serve and on what we learn and gain from service.