I have a friend who is a quarter Native American. We were talking about what we were doing for the holiday over our Thanksgiving dinner on campus, and she laughed and said her family doesn’t really like Thanksgiving, for obvious reasons. And that was when it hit me, that Thanksgiving celebrates many of the same atrocities that Columbus Day lauds, and it’s a bit hypocritical for me to abhor the latter while wholeheartedly celebrating the former. I feel obligated to recognize how problematic this holiday is, how we are officially celebrating the exploitation and subsequent near-destruction of a people.
But there is one major thing that separates Thanksgiving from Columbus Day: no one knows what we’re celebrating on Columbus Day, except a day off of school or work for some. On Thanksgiving, we know what we’re celebrating: family, friendship, love, and quite a bit of privilege. We journey across the country to visit our families, taking part in old traditions and creating our own, cooking together, laughing together, sharing memories, and remembering how much we really do love each other, even if we don’t get together as often as we’d like. Today, Thanksgiving is meant to be a day of joy and togetherness, and so even though the day was created out of terrible legacies, I am thankful for what it has become in modern times.
First and foremost, this year I am thankful for my family and all of our relative healths, and that I can sit in this room typing this with my grandmother reading a book on one side of me and my mother on the other side. I am thankful that we are all able to come together and cook this meal together this year, a tradition I hope we’ll be able to continue for many years to come. I am thankful that my grandmother wants to write her recipes down into a cookbook, and that she wants my help. I am thankful for the counter full of sweet potato pies, some of which have my name on them. But most of all, I am thankful for the powerful powerful love in this room, even when it comes in the form of teasing. I am thankful for my loving father, and my caring older sister and niece, and my recently re-discovered ex-step-brother, even though I couldn’t be with them this holiday.
Next, I am incredibly thankful for Princeton, as corny as it sounds. Nearly everything about my life as it stands today is unrecognizable from my life a mere four years ago, and the change is for the better is the vast majority of ways. I am obviously thankful for the academic atmosphere, the classes I’ve taken and the incredible minds (both of my professors and my classmates) that I’ve gotten to work with, and for the myriad opportunities I’ve been given (financial aid, job, internships, mentors, acting, leadership, trips to Broadway, meeting famous people). I am thankful for the friendships I’ve spent various fractions of the past 3.5 years cultivating; I mean it when I say you all have changed my life for the better in so many ways. I might even be more thankful for the lessons I’ve learned outside the classroom, as taught by my friendships and other relationships, than for that which I’ve learned from books and lectures. I have learned myself by knowing you.
Two particular subsets of Princeton deserve shout-outs. Firstly, I am thankful for what I will call “Black Princeton,” being “the Black community” ambiguously defined, as well as the Center for African-American Studies and the Carl A. Fields Center. You introduce me to sides of myself I didn’t know, eased an uneasiness I hadn’t even been aware of. I always say I “learned how to be Black” at Princeton, and that was all you, and I’m so incredible grateful. You taught me the meaning of community, both in giving me the all-inclusive-ness I desperately needed and in giving me the space I needed to branch out. And secondly, I am thankful for the community I branched out into: Quad. I am thankful for the somewhat haphazard series of decisions that brought me to you and to the officer corps. I am thankful for the diversity of backgrounds, experiences, majors, and ideals we share, and the ever-expanding dinner table and large library where conversations that explore this diversity happen. I am thankful for having been turned into a functional alcoholic responsible drinker, and for a safe space in which my inhibitions have been lowered to a level I’m much more comfortable with. Both of these communities have changed me fundamentally, and I don’t know what I’d do without either.
I am thankful for my friends from childhood/adolescence, because even though sometimes I feel like I’ve drifted away from you guys, as soon as we have a good conversation or hang out, it’s like no time has passed at all. I’m thankful that we grew up (and are still growing up) together, and that after all these years, many of my memories with you all are still counted among the best of my life.
I am thankful for the privileges I have been afforded, for technology, for my job, for the #Occupy movement, for online shopping, for dreaming about roadtrips, for music, for clearance racks, for Integrated Gmail, for etsy, for ebay, for libraries, for my health, my memory, for being able to help my mom when she needs it, for feeling appreciated, for having others to appreciate, for the fight for social justice and equal rights, and for the struggle, because growth must be rooted in frustration. I am thankful for my life, and everything it entails.