11/24/2010 09:12 pm ET Updated Jan 14, 2012

Short List for Thanksgiving

Here's a short list of the things I'm especially thankful for this year.

Family and Friends: I rely so much on my family's support! I am thankful for their patience and their affection, their shenanigans and their inspiration. Friendship provides a framework for everything else in my life, and I am grateful for their kindness and conversation.

Meaningful Work: I am so fortunate to work at something I really love to do. As a teacher, I see young people whose capacity for discovery and transformation is extraordinary. As someone leading a university, I marvel at how faculty and staff go beyond the call of duty to devote long hours to create a context in which students with diverse interests and backgrounds can find the best path for their own education.

Service: In difficult times like these, it is inspiring to see the generosity of so many. Groups on our campus have sponsored the local food pantry, started a school for girls in Kenya, organized flood relief in Pakistan and tutored hundreds of students right in our hometown. They do it with energy and good humor, and I am so thankful for their inspiration!

Promise of Community: At a time when government is increasingly dysfunctional, it is tempting to grow cynical about the public sphere in general. Hypocritical posturing by elected officials can dissuade us from thinking there is anything that can be accomplished through civic engagement, but that would be a serious mistake. Even as the bureaucrats and the representatives get tied up in knots, all across the country people are organizing together to get things done. These may be projects to help children or the elderly, or to revitalize a neighborhood with economic investment or cultural activity. When our more official organizations seem to be delighting in gridlock, ad hoc groups of citizens are working together to create change. I am thankful for civil society in America, the non-governmental public sphere where we work together to improve our lives.