Speeches & Commentary

Thanksgiving wishes

Dear Washington University community,

When I wrote to our community at Thanksgiving in 2020, things were heavy to say the least. We were preparing turkey for three instead of thirty. We were glued to television and social media after a contentious election. Many of us were grieving losses related to the pandemic. And of course, we were all somehow still working and studying and caring for one another, putting one foot in front of the other in an attempt to make progress on the work that matters to us most.

And while we’re still dealing with much of that on some level, this week many of us will return to some of our grounding holiday traditions, and for that I’m immensely grateful. I’m grateful that students who choose to spend Thanksgiving at their family tables will return to finish out their fall semester alongside their friends and mentors here on campus. I’m grateful that we can breathe a little easier behind our masks knowing that vaccines have provided significant protection from severe illness for most of our loved ones. (And yes, you do still need those masks.)

Beyond my feelings of gratitude this Thanksgiving, I also have a wish for all of us – our students, our faculty, our staff, and our families. I wish for a long weekend of play and rest.

WashU is an incredibly diverse community, but there’s one thing we all have in common: we work hard. Really hard. We pull all-nighters and work weekends. We work on planes and in hotels and I’ve even seen some of you working on your laptops at Blueberry Hill. The clinicians among us are still working harder than ever under some of the most distressing conditions they’ll ever face.

We do it because we’re passionate. We believe our work has the potential to make an impact, and we’re right. Each day I am blown away by what you – what we – accomplish. But we are more than our achievements, and we need so much more than work. In fact, if we want to fulfill our potential, we simply must make time for rest and pursuits that bring joy.

Opportunities for play, rest, and appreciation of beauty are all around us. We can pursue these opportunities alone or with others, at home or on the go. Many don’t cost a dime. The hard part, I think, is not finding the opportunity, but rather, giving ourselves permission to engage in the simplicity of play and rest, finding new ways to enjoy the beauty and novelty of our world exactly as it is.

Do you wonder if you deserve a break? You do. Do you think you’ll fall hopelessly behind if you take one? You won’t.

As chancellor, my to-do list is long, and I’d like to think much of it is important. But this weekend I’m going to rest. I’m going to smoke a turkey and try not to burn down Harbison House. I’m going to annoy Olive with my dad jokes. I’m going to watch Ohio State v. Michigan and walk Danny and finish watching The Chair. And I’m fairly certain Washington University in St. Louis will still be standing on Monday when I return to Brookings Hall.

Students, colleagues, and friends, I hope you follow my lead and show gratitude through rest and play this Thanksgiving. We’ve worked harder these past couple years than ever before just to maintain a sense of normalcy and make whatever progress our circumstances allowed. I am so incredibly grateful for you – not just what you accomplish, but all of what makes you who you are. Let’s celebrate that.

And before I close, I want to recognize those of you who truly cannot take a break over the holiday weekend because you are scheduled to serve, including our clinicians, research staff, food service and hospitality workers, police officers, and many others. I see and deeply appreciate your sacrifices, and although your celebrations may be delayed, I hope you find meaningful moments of peace and gratitude this Thanksgiving.