Thanksgiving: The Grad School Holiday

My parents are both from Seattle, but I grew up in Kentucky, far away from my aunts and uncles, most of whom had stayed out west. This meant that, much to my father’s chagrin, the near totality of the times we saw my aunts and uncles involved us traveling to visit them and not vice versa. There were some exceptions to this rule (hence the “near” in “near totality”), including one year when two of my uncles were in dental school in Ohio. Their grad school adventure not only put the Kentucky Greenhalghs within driving distance, it also made us the closest family around for the holidays.

This was the year that Thanksgiving became inseparably connected in my mind with grad school, even though I barely understood what grad school was at the time. At one point during their visit, I caught one of my uncles studying an impossibly thick book on dentistry (though some of its size is surely due to the hyperbole that accompanies the passage of time), and my middle school mind just could not fathom why someone would spend valuable Thanksgiving break time preparing for a test. As far as I was concerned, Thanksgiving was Thanksgiving and there was no excuse for sullying it with schoolwork.

It was my sophomore year of college, which, funnily enough, I spent in Seattle, that things started to change. In fact, it might have been that same uncle (though some of this irony is surely due to the malleability of memory that accompanies any attempt to tell a good story), now with his own dental practice in the motherland, who gave me the hardest time about my trying to find time to do my Arabic homework before and between courses. Things only got worse over the next few Thanksgivings, and each year I thought back to my uncle, DDS, and my middle school bemusement that he would dare spend precious Thanksgiving time on homework.

Now that I’m in grad school myself and, more precisely, now that I’m spending the drive down to visit my brother-in-law-in-law-school and his family writing this blog post instead of preparing for Monday’s brown bag presentation or doing Wednesday’s homework or reading those articles or that survey instrument that have been on my to-do list for a while, I think it’s safe to say that Thanksgiving will always be “the grad school holiday” for me. It’s the time of year that when all students (but perhaps especially grad students) so desperately need a break, but since the holiday falls so close to the end of the semester without actually falling after the semester, it’s also the time of year that we all spend stressing about our final projects and final exams.

And yet, it’s also a time for all students (but perhaps especially grad students) to give thanks. For all the stresses of grad school life, we really do have a lot to be grateful for.

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