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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

A Time of Thanks

From the President's Desk

To: The Rensselaer Community
Re: A Time of Thanks

At Rensselaer, we tackle the very hardest of problems — challenges such as climate change; the related need for sustainable materials and infrastructure, as well as sufficient supplies of food, water, and energy for a growing global population; national and global security; and the mitigation of disease and the improvement of human health around the globe.

We are a community of people dedicated to expanding knowledge and to uplifting lives on a grand scale. But given our focus on issues of global significance, the Thanksgiving holiday is very welcome, as a reminder, also, to consider and to appreciate our lives a little nearer to home.

While the early history of Thanksgiving in the United States is well known — including the celebration in 1621 of the Pilgrims’ first harvest in the New World, alongside the Native Americans who had taught them survival skills — what is less well known is that Thanksgiving was celebrated only intermittently until the Civil War. In 1863, after several important victories by the Union Army, President Abraham Lincoln established a national precedent that continues today, by proclaiming that the last Thursday in November be set apart for all Americans to celebrate the country’s bounties and blessings. Although President Lincoln originally delineated the observance to be on the last Thursday of November, the date of celebration was changed by Congressional resolution, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in December 1941, to the fourth Thursday in November.

The remarkable proclamation, which is believed to have been drafted by Secretary of State William Seward, acknowledges the suffering caused by the Civil War. However, it also recognizes “fruitful fields and healthful skies,” the peace preserved with other nations despite internal strife that they might have seen as an invitation to aggression, the progress of industry despite the costs of war, the increase of the population despite the wasted lives on the battlefield, and the expectation, despite the nation’s wounds, of a “large increase of freedom.”

In its enumeration of reasons to be grateful amidst turmoil, it is inspirational.

As we wrestle with many of the most sprawling challenges of our own world in flux, there is value in recognizing, as well, that within those challenges lie the opportunities for a better future; that each of us is fortunate to be engaged in the supremely interesting work of addressing great questions; that we are a community of learners and within learning there is always joy; and that we are blessed with fruitful fields, healthful skies, and — most importantly — with each other’s fellowship, as we work together to change the world. 

I wish all of you, and your loved ones, the most beautiful of holidays!

Happy Thanksgiving!