Thanksgiving 2017

Being grateful

Yesterday, a faculty member at another university, an extraordinarily accomplished woman with whom I worked a number of years ago, called to talk about what I have liked and disliked about being a dean. In speaking with her, I realized, yet again, how deeply grateful I am for the opportunity to lead the Gillings School and for the privilege of getting up every day with a sense of mission and purpose.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “and give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

I am so grateful, now more than ever, to be part of the Gillings School community, the UNC-Chapel Hill community and the larger public health community, all driven and governed by a commitment to make the world a better place. That sense of mission is not an entitlement but a gift for which I am deeply grateful. For so much of the world, the necessities of everyday living – clean water and sanitation, nourishing food, a safe place to live, acceptance and freedom – are the things for which people are most grateful; they are not guaranteed.

I am grateful for amazing students who are driven by the joy and passion of pursuing a future in which they will have the knowledge, tools and skills to improve the world.

I am grateful for faculty members with curiosity about and determination to solve the big challenges and threats we humans face on this planet, who, in the face of many obstacles, persevere.

I am grateful for staff members who work in a system that often pays too little and asks too much, and yet are committed to our mission, students and to excellence.

We could not be the outstanding school we are today without alumni who go forth and make us proud, volunteers who share wisdom and generosity, and donors who invest in us and in the future.

There is much work to do to make the world and our environment healthier, safer and greener. We also must work even harder to become more welcoming, diverse and inclusive.

At times during the past year, many have questioned the kindness of our country and feared for the future of our planet and its people. Yet, we keep moving forward, because there is much work to do. The world needs us to continue to save mothers, babies and children; find ways to prevent the next pandemic; unravel cancer’s unknowns; support health care; feed the hungry; and bring water and clean air to millions.

I am grateful to be part of a community driven by the better impulses of humanity, because every day, there is a reason to go forward with hope and optimism. We are the change agents, discoverers and transformers. I still believe that we can make a difference.

Scientists have shown that affirming one’s gratitude is health-enhancing. Maya Angelou’s words, then, serve as a valuable guidepost:

Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.
And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.

As Thanksgiving 2017 approaches, I wish you all a joyous holiday with sufficient food (not too much) and an abundance of friends and family, good health and good times. Savor your loved ones as we, collectively, reflect that not all are as fortunate as many of us are today. In our community are people who have come to safety from trauma, and too many live in fear.

If you pray, pray for leaders who will have compassion to recognize that everyone, at some time, needs a helping hand. None of us make it completely on our own. No person is an island (to paraphrase John Donne).

Thank you for all you do to make the Gillings School a place of excellence, joy and inclusiveness, and our lives and world better, safer, healthier and more just.

Happy Thanksgiving – and safe journeys if you’re traveling for the holiday. Barbara


The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

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