Sunlight through the trees on campus

As the Leaves Change, So Do We: Autumn Reflections and Thanksgivings in Hillsdale

Written by Sara Garfinkle

As the leaves change in Hillsdale, so do we. Trees frame my daily walk up the hill from my apartment to the main campus, and their changing colors parallel the semester’s progress.

The trees were dressed in their brightest, boldest greens for the last days of August. Freshmen saw the greenest leaves touched by sunlight as a sign to go. To start. To grow. For faculty, staff, and returning students, the verdant welcome signified a fresh start to a new year.

September came and summer stretched into it. The days were warm, and we studied on the lawns in front of the classroom buildings with our sleeves rolled up and toes tangled in the grass. The month faded into October with the golden fanfare of Christ Chapel’s dedication and the yellowing of leaves, many of them decorating walkways and crunching under shoes. As each leaf dropped, so did our carefree summer attitudes.

The rest of October was perfect. Long arms dripping with topaz and amber and ruby and jasper replaced the tree branches. Gemstones piled up at the bases of tree trunks. I leapt into those precious piles as I walked to class. Overnight, it seemed, homework and projects and exams and papers replaced the blank spaces in our planners. Deadlines piled up. I—admittedly—kept away from those piles.

Now it is November—the November of my senior year, my last November at Hillsdale College. Many of the trees are bare. With the decadence stripped from the trees, the stark branches invite me to reflect on the preciousness of my time here; they beckon thanksgiving.

I am thankful for my teachers. In my first few months at Hillsdale, I only saw my intellectual superiors as teachers. I was stubborn. Foolish. Now, I recognize that every member of this community has something to teach me, and most of what I have to learn is not academic. I am surrounded by teachers here. They are professors, counselors, mentors, friends, sorority sisters, and they have taught me to learn relentlessly.

I am grateful for the campus clubs. Nearly every political leaning and certainly every western religion are represented. The variety of passions—from outdoor exploration to logic puzzles, from international cultures to dramatic improvisation—offered by student organizations reminds me to cultivate my own curiosity. The rich diversity of this community has blessed me and blesses me still.

I am thankful for communal seating in the dining hall. As a freshman, I was mortified that I could not enjoy my lunch alone with only the company of a good book or some homework. Now, I take the last remaining seat at a large round table, no matter who else is sitting there. I cram yet another chair along a row of tables. I turn around in my seat to join a conversation about Aristotle’s hypothetical Twitter account or the latest campus prank or recruitment for Greek life. I compete—regularly—for the tallest soft serve ice cream cone championship.

I am grateful to live and learn in a place where my intellect is challenged, my spirituality is nurtured, and my growth is required.

I am thankful for the beautiful campus because it is the best setting for investigating those things which are good, true, and beautiful. The brick buildings stand tall. The dome of the Chapel gleams. The statues of statesmen guard the walkways. The greenspace welcomes amateur frisbee throwers and burgeoning professional “statue golfers.” The trees stretch their branches invitingly, encouraging growth and reflection for all who accept their invitation.

I am grateful for the leaves, which remind me to take pause, give thanks, and grow alongside the seasons.

Sara GarfinkleSara Garfinkle, ’20, studies Rhetoric, Pulic Address, and Hebrew. She plans to be a speechwriter and teacher after graduation. Until then, you can find her baking bread, watching science fiction shows, going on adventures with her Pi Phi sisters, and pranking her younger brother Ben.

Published in November 2019