Thanksgiving meant something very different to me this year than it has before. I was the victim of the first reported sexual assault this year, on Sept. 23, but this incident has had a very different effect on me than I ever expected it to. This year I truly had something to be thankful for: In addition to my personal safety and the safety of my roommates, I am more grateful than anything else for the tremendous love and encouragement that I have received from the people in my life.

Because of the support that has been given to me from so many different aspects of my life, I have been able to put this behind me. People that I had just met, or barely knew, made an effort to make sure that I was okay, with something as simple as a hug or a word of encouragement and the impact that these small actions had on me was incredible.

Just the fact that people cared enough to do something, anything, no matter how small of a gesture, was enough to put a smile on my face. After this experience I have learned to appreciate the people in my life so much more and I will never again hesitate to show someone that I care, even if it’s just through a few simple words.

We are all put here to impact each other’s lives, and I have personal experience that the interactions we make with one another can really make a difference. Love, appreciate and respect yourselves, and the people around you. Never underestimate the power of your actions, because with one small gesture you can change a person’s life forever – a small gesture can manifest itself into something much deeper and more meaningful than you could ever imagine. Be thankful for all that you have and all that you are able to give to each other. Life is beautiful because of the people who are in it.

Leila Drake is a junior film studies and art history major.