Going Home for Thanksgiving

Regardless of its questionable origins, Thanksgiving among many Americans is a time reserved for gathering with family, giving thanks, and eating good food. This year is a little different.


When choosing what school to go to, I picked one far from my hometown, hundreds of miles out of state. How was I to know this would lead me to be putting my family and loved ones at risk during a global pandemic?


Americans have been bombarded with (rightful) messaging telling them not to travel or visit family. As a college student, I have no choice. Staying on campus would’ve been a difficult and expensive process, same with finding a local apartment to live in over break. So I flew home.


At school, I have some control over how safe I choose to be in my daily life. At home I am left to the mercy of whatever my family deems acceptable behavior. I am grateful to live with people who believe in the severity of this disease, but that doesn’t mean I don’t watch with careful eyes. Seeing people share food or hug seems like a cardinal sin after the time I spent carefully maneuvering through my city campus.


I was surprised my school did as well as it did this semester COVID-wise. We had almost no cases until the week before Thanksgiving when a small outbreak shut down extracurriculars and emptied the streets only for a few nights. Still, the fear looms. We know another wave is coming, college students will be shipped back to their campuses in January, coming from all over the world. Campuses that didn’t survive a month of the fall semester have revised their protocol in an attempt to welcome students back in 2021.


We’re closer to a vaccine than ever, but we’re still not out of the woods. Almost 1.5 million people have lost their lives to COVID so far, and unfortunately the count is not done yet. Pandemic fatigue is real as more and more people abandon their quarantine hesitations and re-enter the world. The question of who is essential has become a confusing catch-all for anyone whose boss wants them to return to work.


Some schools are planning to attempt the difficult endeavor of having students return immediately after Thanksgiving to complete finals on campus. Others, mine included, have sent students home until the next semester begins in January. College students across the nation will be studying for final exams and taking virtual classes from their childhood bedrooms, just as they did after being evacuated in March.


In the grand scheme of things, a college student is nowhere near the worst thing to be in 2020. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t struggles. Taking a college-esque sleep schedule and diet back to a house occupied by parents isn’t typically known for going over well. Sleeping in may seem lazy, but it’s many college students’ way of balancing out the nights they stay up late studying.


Additionally, in my experience at least, everyone’s favorite conversation starter is to talk about how terrible it must be to have the “best” years of our lives taken from us. For many, college is four short years meant to be spent meeting people, sitting in packed lecture halls, partying, and so much more that has become impossible in today’s world. Talking about how fun your college years were will not improve a current college student’s mood. It only serves as a reminder of what we’re missing while we log onto our classes and stare at the black boxes of our classmates' screens, cameras off and microphones muted as the chaos of our house continues on without us.


It can be nice to visit friends from home, but each visit becomes a calculated risk. Many college students are coming home from various different places, bringing an airports’ worth of germs from their respective college town. Not to mention, there are a very limited number of safe options available for hanging out. At least in my small town, there are only so many parking lots you can sit six feet apart in before the yearning for your own dorm room sets in.


This Thanksgiving, like the rest of 2020, has been unique. While its essential purpose of gathering has been disrupted, there is nothing more worth being thankful for than the health and safety of those you love. That health and safety can only be maintained by following the protocol put in place by medical professionals. Keep the death count down, keep the hospital beds empty, and least importantly, don’t let college students miss out on all four years.