Referred to almost exclusively by her first name on campus, Domna came to America from Macedonia, Greece, and worked at a dental company for 15 years before being hired by Harvard. Since then, she has risen to celebrity status one swipe at a time, checking in freshmen at nearly every meal as they enter Annenberg dining hall.
“She's the only character I can think of at Harvard that every single student knows and can get into a conversation about,” said Sami Majadla ’11.
Domna has always remained loyal to the University’s first-year students, whom she affectionately refers to as “my freshmen.” In an interview, she said that getting to know Harvard’s new blood—“talking with them and laughing with them and joking with them”—has been her favorite part of the job.
She said she has never left Annenberg for a position in an upperclass dining hall during her Harvard career.
“I started with freshmen and I finish with freshmen,” she said.
While some students are on good terms with Domna, many a freshman without the plastic necessary to eat at Annenberg has seen her more cantankerous side.
“It sucks that all the incoming freshmen won't have somebody to yell a lecture at them every time they forget their IDs,” Majadla said.
Domna said that she believes students overall view her in a “positive” light, although she admits, “sometimes I yell at them, but that was because I had to.”
“I have to straighten them up sometimes, but I love them," she said.
Domna’s presence has been pervasive on campus over her many years as Annenberg's steward. A 2002 Class Ode written for Commencement began with the lines: “Fair Harvard we swipe in our old ID cards/For one last encounter with Domna/If your card is forgotten then all will be lost/Not unlike the crashing dot-comna.”
Urban Dictionary, a Web site that defines slang words and phrases, has a single listing for Domna: “Female gatekeeper of freshman dining halls. She swipes your cards and steals your hearts. Domna - the dominator.” And in 1998, a Crimson article by Amanda P. Fortini '98 included “try to get into Annenberg for lunch, just to see Domna again,” in a list of 100 things to do before graduating.
Anna M. Yeung ’12, a student in Expository Writing 50, "Advanced Writing," chose Domna as the subject of one of her assignments. An excerpt from the paper reads, “She is the material of fables and lore, of pumpkin carvings and ballads, and the subject of Crimson profiles. She has been the Annenberg card swiper and dining service employee since time immemorial. Before God said, ‘Let there be light,’ he said, ‘Let there be Domna.’”
Zenab R. Tavakoli ’12 heard about the famous card-swiper for the first time on her Freshmen Outdoor Program trip. One of her leaders, Jeffery S. Overall ’11, noted how important it was to get on “Domna’s good side,” according to Tavakoli. He recommended that each trip participant bring her flowers, and said that he had given her tulips the year before.
Reflecting on the experience, Tavakoli added, “Domna is the new Chuck Norris.”
Domna said that some of her favorite Harvard memories are of the surprise gifts and gestures of affection she received from students. One birthday, students serenaded her with a guitar, and on another, Domna remembered, “Two of my favorite guys brought me a big birthday cake.”
Reflecting on her imminent departure, Domna said, "I’m going to miss Harvard, but it's time for me to go and let somebody else do the job."
Annenberg dining hall management and Crista Martin, the HUDS director for marketing and communications, declined to comment on Domna’s retirement, citing the issue as personal and private.
—Staff writer Molly M. Strauss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.