Samantha Sharf | Why senior year is like Thanksgiving dinner
Elements of Style | The holiday provided an opportunity to look back and to look ahead
November 30, 2011, 1:38 am · Updated December 1, 2011, 4:23 am·
Elements of Style
This Thanksgiving season, I ate myself into food euphoria, and it was glorious. My turkey and brussels sprouts, however, came with a side of reality. The unwanted dish sat among the feast like the watery spinach no one really wanted to eat but couldn’t avoid (you would hate to offend the chef, and spinach is good for you).
Like most seniors, my life has begun to revolve around the future. After a lifetime of planning and dreaming, the real world (otherwise known as graduation) is roughly six months away.
At any age, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to look back, to consider where you have been and where you are going. Kids are told stories about the meal shared by pilgrims and American Indians long ago. They are instructed to be thankful, to share and to think about those who are less fortunate. Adults reminisce about mom’s turkey and grandma’s white bread stuffing. For college students, the holiday comes at the perfect moment in the school year to look back on the fall semester and to look forward to the spring semester.
For a senior, however, the look forward is clouded with anxiety but seems to dominate conversation nonetheless.
I had three Thanksgiving dinners this year.
My family dinner included a long discussion about my hopes, dreams and prospects.
At our third-annual Thanksgiving-themed Shabbat dinner, my friends toasted job offers accepted, anticipated and imagined. We discussed how to make sure we would all be together next year.
At the Kelly Writers House Thanksgiving potluck, Faculty Director Al Filreis asked each guest to tell the group what he or she is thankful for. A freshman spoke about finally finding her place at Penn. Another girl said she was excited to go home. I explained that I am thankful to have finally made it to a Writers House Thanksgiving (better late than never) and for the Writers House for contributing to a college career that has been more interesting than I could have imagined.
Immediately after the words left my mouth, I regretted them. Not because they aren’t true; they could not be more heartfelt. But it bothered me that my statement implied that my Penn experience is over, that I have accomplished and witnessed all my four years has to offer.
Sure, I don’t have time to rack up five classes with a single professor. I can’t run for another term as a Daily Pennsylvanian editor. And I probably won’t meet anyone I worship the way I do Joan Didion. But until May 14, I still have access to all that this University has to offer.
Seniors, just because we have had the experiences we believe will define our college careers doesn’t mean we can’t learn from and enjoy the time we have left.
We still have the opportunity to take a class that will open our minds to ideas we could have never imagined. We can try delicacies from every food cart in University City (I recommend starting with Koja on 38th and Walnut streets). We can go to a frat party (if we really want to). We can walk along the Schuylkill River path, run up the Rocky steps and pay student rates to see breathtakingly beautiful works at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We can make new friends, and we can even fall in love. Six months is a long time.
Each of my holiday meals offered unique variations on holiday classics. My best friend made maple-cranberry cupcakes wrapped in turkey instead of the traditional paper shell. Someone brought vegan-friendly seitan — a tofu-like meat substitute made from wheat gluten — to the Writers House potluck. And someone accidentally froze our turkey at home (the bird was delicious, just served later than originally planned).
As I dug into my meals, however, I wasn’t thinking about the origin of turkey as a Thanksgiving delicacy or pondering seitan’s future prospects as a holiday staple. I enjoyed each bite for its delicious self and the love it was cooked with.
Perhaps, seniors, we need to treat the next six months like Thanksgiving dinner. We need to revel in the moment, the taste and the pure joy of being here. Until last week, I had never imagined I would eat turkey-clad cupcakes — and probably won’t again — but I am glad I gave them a try.
May your second semester be filled with turkey cupcakes.
Samantha Sharf, a former Managing Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian, is a College senior from Old Brookville, N.Y. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Elements of Style appears every Wednesday.