St. Olaf Sentiments: Nov. 21, 2014

In a few short days, Thanksgiving break will be upon us. Many Oles spend these five days traveling home, spending time with family, enjoying home-cooked meals and engaging in pleasant conversation with relatives. Reuniting with parents, siblings and extended family members around the dinner table is a highly-anticipated event for many students who have been away for several months.

At a glance, Thanksgiving appears to be a time for celebration. After all, this may be the year that you are finally allowed to sit at the “adult table” ooh, ahh!. However, after the turkey has been carved, many Oles find Thanksgiving to be a time of discomfort, confrontation and annoyance. After only a few bites, one relative or another is sure to ask the most dreaded and irritating question of the holiday season: “So, how’s school? What are you majoring in again?”

These questions may not seem all that daunting, unless you are one of the many Oles majoring in the humanities. At this point in the conversation, humanities majors have two choices: gloss it over or tell the truth. If you are majoring in English, history, art or any of the other humanities disciplines, you have most likely contemplated this awkward encounter:

You can simply say, “It’s good; classes are good, my roommate is great and I love college,” regardless of your actual feelings on the matter. This response allows you to provide a polite response and appease the relatives while simultaneously shutting down the conversation. Unfortunately, this answer does not allow you to share anything about your passions or interests, the exploration of which dominates your life on the hill.

However, if you are feeling bold and courageous – as in, you would be up for bungee jumping or swimming in a tank of sharks – you can answer truthfully. This is a highly risky choice, because it gives you an opportunity to share your true passions with your family while simultaneously setting you up for a fleet of awkward and unanswerable questions.

Are you getting nervous already? Fear not! Here are three tips for humanities majors to survive Thanksgiving dinner conversation this year. This simple survival guide will provide you with all the tips necessary to enjoy an only slightly-awkward Thanksgiving meal.

1 Your major does not define your intellect or self-worth. The first thing you need to remind yourself is that everyone at this school is “smart.” We all went through the same admissions process and took the same standardized tests, and therefore, for the most part, when we enter this school as first-years, Oles have similar academic qualifications. Just because students don’t decide to major in math or science doesn’t mean that they couldn’t major in these disciplines. It simply means that their interests lie elsewhere. You may even feel pressured to add a caveat, such as “I’m a history major, but I am pre-law” or “I am an English major, but I am pre-med.” If you really are one of these unique vocational combinations, then that is excellent. If you aren’t, that is also excellent. Be proud of the major that you have selected and use Thanksgiving dinner as an opportunity to affirm your passion for your area of study.

2 It is okay if you don’t know what you want to do with your life right now. After you explain your academic situation, most relatives are likely to ask the dreaded follow-up question: “So, what are you going to do with that?” This can be a heart-stopping, blush-inducing quandary. While it might be a good idea for your own vocational discernment to frequently consider this question during your time on the Hill, you do not need to commit to any single career path this Thanksgiving. It is okay to provide a broad answer, explaining the types of careers you are interested in. It is even okay to admit that you aren’t sure yet. Under no circumstances should you feel like you need to make an excuse for your major. This is your education, and these are your choices.

3 Use this as an opportunity to find common ground. The people you are dining with this Thanksgiving are often people you only get to see a few times a year. Take advantage of this conversation as an opportunity to strengthen your relationships with family members. Remember that your interests are not a coffee table book for your relatives to flip through absentmindedly. Actively engage in the conversation by highlighting some things you care about. Maybe talking about your academic interests will make your family members think about an artist, author or cause that they care about as well. Who knows? Maybe this Thanksgiving you will rekindle a new relationship with that slightly eccentric aunt or uncle.

Let’s face it. Even if you follow these tips, your conversation is still going to be a little awkward. Okay, it will probably still be really awkward. But your conversation will be a reflection of your true interests, rather than a superficial description of a falsely-constructed identity. So this Thanksgiving, proclaim your passions unapologetically, and find affirmation in your own intellect rather than the approval of your relatives. Also, eat lots of pie.

mihelich@stolaf.edu

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