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Letters

When We Learned We Had to Leave

By Ryan N. Gajarawala

Editor’s Note:

On March 10, 2020, a string of confusing emails informed undergraduates that they had five days to evacuate Harvard’s campus in the wake of Covid-19. The Crimson Editorial Board has spilled much ink, during those days and in this year after, on the reverberations of this seismic decision. On its anniversary, we decided to invite every student who experienced this day as a Harvard undergraduate into our paper. Historic days leave everyone with a story: where you were when you heard the news, how you reacted, and where you went from there. Below is a selection of stories from the day the pandemic began to upend our college lives, including reflections on what this day means a year later, when life as we once knew it has yet to resume. We hope you enjoy this testament from our peers.

— Hana M. Kiros ’22, Editorial Chair

— Chloe A. Shawah ’22, Editorial Chair


On March 10, I still had hope I would get to reunite with the Harvard communities I loved before my May 2021 graduation. I didn’t think that week would be the last to say goodbye. I wonder, if I had been more pessimistic then, would I have more closure now?

— Abigail Joseph ’21

At 8:20 a.m., I sat down in my concentration advisor's office in the Science Center to talk about plans for the rest of the semester and the summer. My phone on the table buzzed at 8:29 a.m. with President Bacow's email. We saw the first few words and said "never mind...”

— Leigh M. Wilson ’22

My boyfriend cried in my lap and then broke up with me.

— Lavanya Singh ’22

It may be a little dramatic, but the world just stopped moving. At the time, my world was school, friends, sports. With the swiftness of one email, it was all gone. It made me realize how my world is pretty meaningless; there’s bigger things to worry about, and that’s okay.

— Alexandrea G. Harriott ’22

March 10, 2020 was the last day that I lived Harvard as a scary, elitist place. No one in my family has gone to a college like Harvard, and my first two years were distraught and dissatisfying. When I returned to campus on August 23, 2020, I saw how lucky I am to be here. Harvard was the reason I could live a semi-normal life amid a historic pandemic. I'm extremely lucky to say this: I have been infinitely happier during Covid-era Harvard than pre-Covid Harvard. March 10, 2020 is when my stressful, snobby Harvard died.

— Michael Y. Cheng ’22

I woke up hearing tears over FaceTime and a lot of questions. My mom heard about it before I did and already knew what I was calling about. March 9 holds more meaning now instead, as a day of ignorant bliss and a lot of sunshine.

— Janna E. Ramadan ’23

It was my birthday. While it was probably one of the worst days of the year, it was also super memorable because, despite the terrible news and chaos, my friends still were thoughtful enough to surprise me with a cake, which I’ll always be tremendously grateful for.

— Mark Xu, ’22, a Crimson Associate Business manager

It was the morning of my birthday when they told us! It was a bit hard to celebrate after that. But hey, it got me out of a test for that day.

— Joshua M. Conde ’22, a Crimson Editorial editor

It was my 21st birthday. Now, one year later, it is my 22nd birthday.

— Julia H. Riew ’22

My a cappella group, the Opportunes, has tons of traditions we do spring term — on March 10, we had to plan as many as possible for the few days we had left. Albeit rushed, those end-of-year rituals were really important: not knowing whether to say our goodbyes, so singing them instead.

— Ben J. Dreier ’22

I woke up to a harrowing reality of shock, disbelief, and despair. Almost reflexively I call my mom: I will be back in Nepal within a week. A year later, the emancipation I experienced that day still lingers in my memory. The world was ending and nothing mattered anymore.

— Tarun Timalsina ’22

I canceled my birthday trip ticket, sketched a friend atop Annenberg, bought pencil lead from Bob Slate's that still hasn't run out, and for the first time, actually gazed at the Yard.

— Vanessa Hu ’24

Got the news while working the morning shift at Lamont Café
Girl in Canada Goose stole all the muffins from the pastry display
Guess I should have told her off, or tried to make her pay
But what the hell does anything matter anymore, anyway?

— Emilee A. Hackney ’20

I didn’t laugh, cry, or say goodbye. Instead, I spent March 10 hard at work for the newspaper I loved. Twelve months later, I have fallen out of love with that newspaper, and fallen in love with someone else. Both have changed me for the better. If it happened today, I’d laugh and cry. I’d say goodbye.

— Camille G. Caldera ’22, a Crimson News editor

I had never felt more lost in my life. I began meandering, holding onto trauma, new and old, from pre- and mid- Covid-19, as I tried to navigate an entirely new reality. A year later, I'm still sitting with the trauma, but I know where I'm going. My body is lighter.

— Anusha Zaman ’23

Mopping the floor of the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter in the morning, groggy from lack of sleep, I remember hearing one of my fellow volunteers gasp. Trying to toggle between a guest on the phone and the email that would shape our college experience for the next year and beyond, I recall utter disbelief. I called my mom, bewildered.

— Henry N. Lear ’24, a Crimson Magazine comper

March 10, 2020 began with me stressing over how to fly home during my 9 a.m. class. Afterwards, I got a call from HUHS saying I tested positive for the flu. I immediately went back to my dorm, put on a surgical face mask, and began packing to leave campus.

— Julia C. Welsh ’23

I was studying abroad at Oxford. I was in the library working on an essay that was due later that day. Then I got the email. I was the only blockmate who was awake, so I just waited for my friends to wake up, for the panic, for the tears.

— Paulina Piwowarczyk ’21

On 3/10/2020, my world broke. My friends and I spent that whole week together. Looking back, I am grateful we did not know it was our last week of Harvard. Going forward, 3/10 will be a day of appreciating what I have, because I know how quickly everything can change.

— Jenna D. Lang ’21, a Crimson Business associate


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