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Midway through last semester, I was walking along the Charles River, watching a group of friends picnic with blankets and beer cans while a couple of senior boys played spikeball on the river’s grassy shore.
The sun was just setting. The dining halls would soon be closing after dinner. The final clubs were getting ready to blast the newest hits. It seemed like the wind down of every typical college day — except that day, it wasn’t.
By the end of the weekend, almost all students would be required to vacate their dorms in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. No one in our school’s administration — and perhaps, in the world — could predict a return date.
And that semester, no one would return. I held off from sharing my sorrow about the abrupt end in deference to the students in situations worse than mine or the seniors who experienced all their lasts too soon. Despite everything, wasn’t I lucky to have a safe home to quarantine in? And as a junior, wasn’t I lucky to have more time?
While the former still holds true, I’m not so sure about the latter. Someone in the Class of 2020 joked that Harvard would have to “woo them extra” to get their alumni donations. Now, they have a second punchline: “But not as much as the Class of 2021.”
As part of the Class of 2021, I’m about to start my senior year, in which I will not live on campus for at least the fall and will have classes online for the whole year. The next few months will hold a lot of uncertainties, but what I do know for certain is that my typical college days are over.
Never again will I walk down Plympton Street after a packed lecture in Sanders, pausing to watch the passersby crowd around a bookstore’s window or to hug a friend after serendipitously crossing paths. Nor will I stand next to my classmates on the steps of Memorial Church during a student-organized vigil, heeding the calls for justice, opening my heart to collective grieving. No more packed movie theater dates with my crush from the Quad, unexpected discoveries during an open group study hall, or Harvard-Yale games with my roommates, spent decked out in all the crimson gear we could find.
My college experience — and those of the millions of other seniors enrolled this year — as I knew it is all but over. And, yes, I’m devastated that I won’t have a typical last year at the school I grew to love. But it is precisely because of my love that I know, undoubtedly, Harvard is making the right decision to go online, to only bring back those that they must.
The truth is, what I’ll miss most about college when I graduate are those face-to-face encounters: those exchanges that made me distinctly aware of my humanness in that moment, in that place. Engaging with so many other students, staff, professors, and strangers made me strive to understand — and correct — the impact of our human actions. My time on campus made me believe a better world was possible. I started to hope, more deeply and more boldly.
It was the people I met at college that strengthened my capacity to love, and ultimately, it’s the people that matter most when making decisions amidst a pandemic. Ensuring the safety — the most fundamental part of any endeavor involving others — is impossible for a full campus during the time of coronavirus. And my remote senior year is a necessary sacrifice that protects the people and campus I’ve come to adore.
I still remember a time when I could stroll through a full and bustling campus unwinding from the work week; I want all that and more for the Class of 2022 and the next class and the next. Sending us home is simply Harvard’s way of making that happen, of — one day — giving someone the best four years of their life back.
Patricia J. Liu ’21, a former Crimson News editor, is an English concentrator in Quincy House.
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