What Carried Us Through This Homecoming Semester

Picking up our lives at Harvard, or starting them, however, came in fits. After a year of loss and estrangement, we want to pause and ask: How has it felt to come together again this semester, and what carried you through it?
By The Crimson Editorial Board

By Michael Shao

This semester was a homecoming. The pandemic’s hold on our college experience, while loosened, is still felt — we wear masks to lecture and Editorial Board meetings, and stick Covid tests up our nose bi-weekly. But campus has undeniably roared back to life after a historic pause to life as usual.

Picking up our lives at Harvard, or starting them, however, came in fits. After a year of loss and estrangement, we want to pause and ask: How has it felt to come together again this semester, and what carried you through it?

What does it feel like to return to a different place than the one you paused in?

We didn’t just return to a different place than we left in March 2020; we ourselves are different people. I returned to campus expecting to neatly pick up where I had left off as a freshman, but too much time has passed and too much has happened for me to neatly put the puzzle pieces back together. I see the world differently than I did. This semester has been one of change — of a switch from pre-law to pre-med, of a clarification and reordering of my priorities, of new friendships. I will forever wonder what the ending of my pre-pandemic Harvard story would have been, but I’m eternally grateful for everything I’ve regained in our return to campus.

—Orlee G.S. Marini-Rapoport ’23-’24

Deep into summer 2020, a thought wafted over my mind, so gentle that it shocked me. “Where’s Remy?” Freshman year, the campus cat found me almost exclusively at my lowest; shaky with sleepiness in a deserted library, or weeping behind doors he’d inexplicably entered. My orange Houdini. Magic, definitely. But once campus de-densified, every wayward soul scattered. So how, then, did our patron fill his days?

Of the four classes on campus when Covid sent us packing, only two returned. Remy, though, hasn’t graduated. When I see him, I can’t help but think that I'll probably never see most of them again.

—Hana M. Kiros ’22

I left Harvard as a sophomore and returned a senior; coming back to campus was like getting a job I was unqualified for, but really eager to do well. My blockmates and I poured ourselves into trying to be like the seniors who made Harvard — our House, our classrooms, our clubs — the place we had missed so badly the year prior. Three months later, we are absolutely exhausted. But I think that’s a good sign.

—Chloe A. Shawah ’22

For upperclassmen, this semester represented a return home, but as a sophomore who had never lived on campus, I had the opportunity to discover a new home. At first, the unfamiliarity felt overwhelming, but I learned to find joy in the undiscovered. From climbing on the roof of my dorm to reconnecting with friends I had only met online to taking biology field trips near the Charles River, each day held a new experience that taught me about myself, others, and the Harvard community. Not every experience was what I imagined, but constant change was what I needed.

—Libby E. Tseng ’24

What carried you through this semester?

Cinnamon toasties from the Kirkland dining hall from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. The sweet and crunchy cereal has carried me through the semester before, but this one was different. I ate cinnamon toasties in the loneliness of my house the past virtual semester, but this semester when I ate that ridiculously sweet cereal, I was surrounded by friends that I haven’t known for more than six months, but I couldn’t imagine my life without them. Cereal nights in the weaning hours of the night carried me this semester, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. C-entryway, I love you guys. Cereal?

—Markus I. Anzaldua-Campos ’24

The Charles River glittering under the morning sun as the Red Line passes over the Longfellow Bridge is forever ingrained into my mind. Sharing that moment with a train car of strangers reminds me that we are more than a singularity — we are connected by living in this city, sharing a community. Boston used to be unfamiliar to me. Now, it’s home. There’s joy and endurance in these brick-and-stone streets, a new microcosm of the city to get to know better, a new day to see the Charles River ebbing and flowing as it outlines the city.

—Shanivi Srikonda ’24

I got a job in the Classics department this year. In the mix and the craziness of the year, everyone kept asking me why. Why take on more responsibility? Why put time into a job if you don’t “need” it? I didn’t have a good answer then, but now I know. The ability to walk into a space in the chaos of college and be focused on one specific thing, working with and helping people you like, is invaluable. It’s like meditation, bringing a breath of stability into my life.

—Ivor K. Zimmerman ’23

My Harvard interviewer left me with these words: forge strong female friendships. My blocking group girls have been by my side through the semester’s swings. The 5 a.m. conversations, the stick figures on pink Post-it’s, the group hug after blowing the candles out, the six wingwomen “acting normal” when it counts. Screaming “All Too Well,” reminding me I’m stronger than I know, braiding my hair as if I were a princess. Never dropping my hand in crowds, giving the best nicknames, bonding over Bo Burnham, answering any thought experiment. Thanks to them, I’ve loved more than our 613 photos together can capture.

—Anuksha S. Wickramasinghe ’24

What got me through? Crunchy leaves in the Yard. No reason why. That’s all.

Just kidding. This semester to me has been about forcing myself to acknowledge small happinesses: memes I reacted with more than a nose crinkle at, mirrors in opportune places for too many selfies, all 24 hours of sunlight through my bedroom window. Arguably, happiness is to be felt without conscious thought; like a joke, it dies on the operating table. But I find when I leave happiness to passive feelings, the little ones slip away. You have to snag that kind of happiness in a butterfly net.

—Christina M. Xiao ’24

This semester, I was carried on the backs of my friends and by the strength of my own shoulders — what I used to see as incompatible, I now see as twin flames. I have cried with friends and danced alone. I have journaled in community and sang in solitude. I have lived three lifetimes within this semester, each one guided by both the immensity of my own tenacity and the unrelenting support of those with me along the way. Through others, I have found my own strength. Through others, I am celebratory of my own messy, beautiful life.

—Ellie H. Ashby ’24

Unexpected friendships develop at just the right time. Right when you feel smothered by your work or invisible to the people you trusted the most, there’s always an accidental introduction to save you. At least, that’s what propelled me through this semester. I took refuge in my casual acquaintances and watched them effortlessly transform into stronger bonds. Rejecting the “no new friends” mentality awarded me with safe social spaces, and allowed me to never settle. —Ebony M. Smith ’24

My roommates and I laughed when we first saw it in our common room. I mean, who puts a white pleather couch in a college dorm? We didn’t know, at the time, that we’d be spending at least an hour every night on those cushions — debriefing, psychoanalyzing, crying, confessing, 1 a.m. snacking, existential crisis-ing, laughing until our sides gave out. It sounds silly, but I made it through this semester because of that couch and the people it held. And call it a miracle (or call it having exceptionally clean roommates), but three-and-a-half months later, the white pleather is still spotless.

—Eleanor V. Wikstrom ’24

On a random Monday in the middle of September, I begrudgingly left the comfort of my dorm and made the trek up to Memorial Hall expecting to audition for an acapella group – that’s all. Nothing life-changing, just another opportunity to get more music into my day-to-day. What I didn’t expect was to meet my on-campus family and make some of my closest friends here at Harvard. Joining the Opportunes was one of the best decisions I have made this semester. Now, every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, I get to do what I love with people who make Harvard feel like home.

—Nicole B. Alexander ’24

Between new friends and old, family, and even strangers, I was held tightly when I could feel myself slipping away. I was seen when I felt invisible. I was loved in moments when I felt unlovable. I had shoulders to cry on alongside hands to hold as we danced together under neon basement lights. And so, I owe this semester's triumph and survival to one thing: community.

—Kyla N. Golding ’24

The walk by the Charles River cradling a bouquet from Trader Joe’s. Handwritten letters with faded constellations of ink stains and a scraggly smiley face. The teddy bear I walked past on the street. The uproarious laughter of friends, the kind that incites a string of giggles for the next couple of minutes. I can’t say that there was a singular object or entity that motivated me to push through, but I woke up every day with at least one thing I looked forward to.

—Ruby Huang ’24

How has the pandemic changed how you relate to others?

It’s been the deep, meaningful conversations and moments that have comforted me upon my return to campus. After so much time at home — and the loss of a loved one this semester — I realized my relationships on campus lacked the commitment and self-sacrifice I aspire to possess. Since this realization, I’ve taken a few people close to me and asked them life’s hard questions: about themselves and who they’ve become. I’m looking for a community of people truly committed to each other and I’ve become more willing to share my own vulnerabilities to arrive at that goal.

—Sterling M. Bland ’23

On my first day of class last year, my history professor said that “we were all hurting and fragile.” I think about this a lot. We’ve been with this virus so long that it doesn't feel strange or novel anymore and with every new mutation it feels like it’s going to be forever. I’ve spent so much time behind a surgical mask that the thought of masking my feelings or pretending to be someone I’m not is too much now. I’m still pretty wound up but I like to think I say how I feel more often.

—Gordon J. Ebanks ’24

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