The end of every calendar year is an opportunity for reflection. This year, we all could be forgiven if we find ourselves focusing on the past year’s challenges and losses. Needless to say, as individuals, as families, as institutions, and as a nation, there have been many.
But yesterday I spent some time with Olin first years for the Gratitude Attitude Day, run by Adva Waranyuwat. We spoke about reflecting on and expressing appreciation for what we should be thankful for. In a surprise video tribute, faculty expressed their appreciation for the hard work and flexibility demonstrated by the first years. The students then took some time to write an email or a postcard to someone who helped them get to this point in their lives. It was an inspiring hour typifying the spirit of the Olin community.
When I reflect on my life and what I have to be grateful for, my thoughts often turn first to my immediate family—my son, Jori, and my husband, Joe.
I remember when I was conducting my PhD thesis research. My experiments would run into the wee hours of the morning, and Joe would sleep on a bench in the hall until I was finished, concerned for my safety and well-being. I insisted that he try to get some sleep, knowing he had a full day of work ahead of him. I worked in that lab up until Jori’s birth in July, and I defended my thesis in December.
Then as a brand-new faculty member, starting up a lab without graduate students and desperate to get experiments done so I’d have preliminary data for grant applications that my career depended on, I spent many nights in the lab after a full day of teaching. Joe would pick up Jori from preschool, get dinner for the two of them and drop off dinner to me in the lab on their way home. In later years, I can recall many vacations, holiday breaks, and weekends when I was up against a grant deadline and the two of them, both accountants by training, would help me put grant budgets together along with other administrative components of the proposal, freeing me up to work on the science.
In many ways, my career has been a family affair because it was enabled by the support of both my husband and my son. I am conscious of the sacrifices they have made on my behalf, and I am aware of how fortunate I am.
Of course, this year I have many other reasons to be grateful. I have had the good fortune to join a warm, caring community; a place that doesn’t just talk about doing good in the world, but actually practices that as part of its educational mission.
As you spend your own time reflecting on this past year, I encourage all of you to make some room for gratitude. That may seem harder to do this year, when feeling grateful seems a stretch for everyone. But it may be that in times of difficulty, when simply the sound of a caring voice, a warm laugh with a friend, or just being reminded of our shared place in a wider community, that gratitude is not only most meaningful, but even a balm all by itself.