November 11, 2020

Thanksgiving Reflections: Recognizing the Meaning of the Harvest

For many generations, my extended family has owned and operated a farm in Nebraska—homesteaded by my wife’s ancestors. The farm is a tranquil place. It is fertile land where corn, wheat and other crops are planted and harvested. My wife grew up on the farm, and the property is sacred ground for our family – a place that is our metaphoric home.

Most every year, our family spends time in Nebraska. My children, who now are adults, grew up with a connection to the land and their ancestors. Our entire family has a personal feeling of connection to the farm, takes pride in the crops and finds joy in both the harvest as well as the bounty that is the annual yield. During quiet moments over the past four decades since joining my wife’s family by marriage, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on the farm’s history and felt a kinship to the pioneers who traveled west in their covered wagons to create a sustainable life – as the say in Nebraska, “A Good Life.”

I’ve often wondered what it took — physically and emotionally — for my family’s ancestors to leave their homes and travel dangerously across this prairie to start anew. American pioneers from all backgrounds had confidence in their vision and a fortitude to survive and then to thrive. They were self-sufficient as they cleared their land, built their homes, sewed their clothes and grew their food. They also nurtured their families, educated their children and created community with their neighbors. After months of toiling in the fields, and its associated uncertainties, they looked forward to the fall harvest which they celebrated with joy and prayers of thanksgiving.

Although I wasn’t able to visit the farm this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or even virtually experience the fall harvest, I have taken time to pause and reflect on the challenges we at Mason have collectively faced over the last several months, and the accomplishments we together have achieved.

The work we began in March as we confronted the multiple adversities of the pandemic, and the many other significant challenges we have faced, reminded me of a quote from W.E.B. Du Bois:

“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest.”

I asked myself, following all of our hard work over many months, what have we as a university harvested this fall? What has been achieved as a result of confidence in our vision? And, how is it we together prepare for the future – that is, how do prepare metaphorically for a future planting and harvest?

I am very proud of how our university carefully developed our Safe Return to Campus Plan, worked diligently to provide an enriching learning experience for our students across different modalities of instruction and assured a healthy environment for the entire university community. COVID created numerous challenges for Mason, and all of higher education, in ways we never expected or could have envisioned.

Despite disappointments such as the lack of an in-person graduation, live performances or athletic contests and reductions in residential life and in-person relationship building, we have been able to keep the Mason Spirit alive through the hard work of faculty and staff who have made it our collective mission to ensure students’ success. We have shown an appreciation for one another, held virtual celebrations, shared good news and promoted positive and connective changes through newsletters, social media and other forms of communication. We have been pioneers in our own way, using innovation to promote success.

As we begin the holiday season, let us move forward with thanksgiving in our hearts as we pledge to sustain and surpass our cooperative efforts to ensure that students, faculty and staff will continue to be inspired to sow what we have planted… and do even more.

Now, as our family farm in Nebraska is in the midst of the annual harvest, we at Mason are are in the midst of our own harvest season. Our “crop” is the joy of our students learning, growing and developing in the midst of global pandemic. Our “harvest” is the encouraging commitment of our entire university community successfully to adjust and adapt in ways never envisioned.

A challenge of the harvest is that farmers also must prepare their fields for the next planting – to begin the annual cycle yet again.

Now is that time also for us at Mason – to celebrate the season while simultaneously preparing for what will be next – and for us, it is preparing for the spring semester. It is our collective challenge to prepare and plan for a spring semester that will sustain and further leverage the experiences of the fall term. It is our intention to ensure that our faculty, staff and students thrive and that our university continues on its path for continued success.

During this season of Thanksgiving – I thank YOU.

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