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Giving thanks for what really matters

LITTLE more than a week away, Thanksgiving will provide a welcome respite for University students feeling the familiar end-of-semester crunch. Exams, papers and presentations loom ahead in the coming weeks, monopolizing our thoughts and making us thankful for five days left free for completing assignments and catching up on piles of reading. Hopefully, however, that's not the only reason we look forward to next week's holiday.

The University teems with over-achieving students always willing to go the extra mile and do the extra credit. Don't get me wrong - I'm not claiming immunity to this tendency. But as I sit in anticipation of my final undergraduate Thanksgiving, I do find it's necessary to put the three papers I'll have due upon return in the proper perspective.

Perhaps it's a lesson I should have learned earlier; perhaps it's a lesson I lacked the perspective to learn until now. Somehow, knowing every passing event of my fourth year constitutes a "last time" makes it easier to appreciate each one more completely. At this point, sucking the marrow out of my remaining time as a University student seems as important as scrapping for points and grubbing for grades. Thanksgiving provides the perfect opportunity to remember what, exactly, makes life meaningful - is it GPAs or grandparents? Resumes or relationships?

We rush through the days and weeks at turbo speed - always on the move, always off to a meeting, class or scheduled "quality time" with a friend. That we pencil each other in on our planners speaks volumes about the kinds of lives we lead. The fact that we're driven students, contributors to our community and conscientious organization members doesn't make us bad people. It just makes us busy people who need to acknowledge the insanity of our own lives.

Thanksgiving should provide an opportunity to forget that mode of life temporarily. Yes, appreciating the potential for productivity during the Thanksgiving holiday remains a natural response for academically minded students. But it should not supercede our appreciation for the potential to spend time with family and long-time friends. These are the people who have seen us through it all - through both success and failure, celebrity and notoriety. For me, these are the people who make my generally wonderful life at the University possible.

My love for the University only has grown over the past four years and though I've spent some of the worst periods of my life as a student here, I have been blessed with some of the best opportunities and experiences here as well. The changes I've experienced here, both idealistic and personal, make me thankful for the opportunity to spend my undergraduate career in such an environment.

My neighbor has a journal that challenges the owner to write down five positive things that happen to him each day. Though many of us probably would benefit from such an exercise, most probably don't think to complete it each day. Thus, our nationally observed holiday devoted to accentuating the positive remains vital to maintaining perspective.

Thanksgiving should involve more than merely a mental enumeration of our lives' positive qualities. Feeling thankful for a friend, a family member or a kind gesture means more if the person involved knows of your gratitude. It's easier to conjure up the feeling and more difficult to put it into words, but the smallest token of appreciation truly can mean so much.

One night I returned home to find that a friend had slipped an envelope through my mail slot. The card inside expressed gratitude for support I had given and for our friendship. This gesture meant as much to me as any flamboyant display of affection and appreciation, reminding me that sometimes it's nice to articulate emotions you usually assume are understood.

Does that mean we should all run to our computers and send off little notes to our 50 "closest" friends through cyber-space? No, it simply means that this year, we should focus more on articulating the thanks we feel and less on worrying about the tasks that will lie ahead when we return to the University. The end of the semester means stress for us all. Before we're forced to immerse ourselves in the impending academic long haul, we should take the opportunity Thanksgiving provides to express our appreciation for those who contribute positively to our lives.

(Amy Startt's column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily.)


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