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Freshman Year on Zoom Is A Cruel Expectation Game

By Amy Y. Li
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board, in this case, heavily influenced by its members of the Class of 2024.

How do you come of age when time stops? How can you grow when everything else is standing still?

Senior year of high school calls for celebration: Against the backdrop of a promising, exciting future, graduating students get to close a defining chapter of their lives. Through cheesy speeches and ill-fitting caps, we crown a 12-year struggle against the American educational system as we gear up for the best years of our lives.

But for the College’s Class of 2024, high school graduation remains a purely theoretical concept — a rite of passage unfulfilled. Proms were canceled, senior year events indefinitely postponed, public gatherings no longer safe. We had to distance from our close friends just as we were gearing up to say goodbye. Instead of a joyous celebration, chronic uncertainty and chaos marred our foray into adulthood, offering a glimpse into a future in disarray.

Years of memories, experiences, and relationships were prematurely truncated last March, weeks before they arrived at their natural conclusion. We were never given enough time to fully process the extent of our loss; the calendar flipped from spring to summer to fall, even though our worlds had halted. The pressure to stay positive and to not think about the milestones we were missing was relentless. Now, a year later, we have to be honest with ourselves.

The last year has left the Class of 2024 scarred, our emotions stunted as we continually negotiate with ourselves even lower expectations for our futures.

Even as we shifted settings and transitioned to college, some of us met Harvard with defensive cynicism born out of our senior spring. Without having moved on from our high school selves — properly, anyway — we were forced to forge new identities in a phantom campus. While we’ve been a part of Harvard nominally — showing up to (Zoom) classes, doing the (virtual) work, (remotely) participating in clubs and sports — many of us do not feel like a part of the fabric of this community. We are in a state of limbo, uncomfortable with how we left our homes and suffering from a lack of the human interaction that defines any year in college, but especially the first.

Technology and anxiety make a poor combination, and bright screens tugged at our mental malaise. We have certainly tried to find our people, forming our own support networks and pursuing moments of genuine personal connection. Yet reaching out via Zoom private chats and GroupMe direct messages is awkward, and attempts to connect can sometimes feel like leaps of unrequited faith. So we are left with performative cheerfulness: portraits of big friend groups formed by overzealous strangers, overly filtered in more ways than one.

And the taxing burden of transitioning to college virtually did not fall equally on all students. Some of us endured our entry to Harvard from home, where reliable access to technology and quieter spaces is not a given. Some low-income students had to choose between living on campus and a $5,000 check. Our international peers were all but barred from Widener gate. All of us have suffered, but some worse than others.

We miss what we never had and then some. The serendipity of bumping into friends at Annenberg and sitting down to have a meal with them; the chatter that fills the lecture hall with music, before and after class. The chance to fully embrace and become a part of our new community.

We are still waiting for the crescendo of our introduction to Harvard; we will likely live it vicariously through the Class of 2025. Part of us knows that we will resent watching them hopefully receive the freshman year milestones we missed, and then feel guilty for our bitterness.

It will take time to reclaim and rebuild ourselves and our expectations. We aren’t without hope and are ever so cautiously optimistic that a more traditional life at Harvard awaits us sooner rather than later. Until then, we take it one dimly lit campus, one lonely meal, and one silent night at a time.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board, in this case, heavily influenced by its members of the Class of 2024. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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