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Editorials

Yardfest, Visitas, and the Return of Traditions

By The Crimson Editorial Board

There is a peculiar magic to physical proximity.

Yardfest, which ended its three-year physical hiatus earlier this month, reminded us of the value of being in-person. There, we coalesced into a single mass, our heads empty and free of fabricated stress, cheering dutifully to Swae Lee’s cries of “Harvard University!” The College had not — all at once— experienced this cathartic kind of fun in what felt like eons.

Our in-person traditions are steadily returning to campus, and for that we are grateful. Housing Day, despite not being in its full pre-Covid form, was a considerable success, as dorm-stormers giddily informed the Class of 2025 of their upperclassman housing fates. The University has selected New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and United States Attorney General Merrick Garland ’74 as Commencement speakers, heralding the return of top-tier, in-person addresses for the graduating class. As of writing, Visitas has once again shepherded droves of eager, curious freshmen to the Yard this year, who can finally taste-test the coveted “transformative Harvard experience” without opening Zoom on their laptops.

Our campus has ached badly for these traditions; we have, too. We celebrate their return and the promise they embody — the promise of something better, both new and old, at long last delightfully normal.

The much-anticipated rebound of longtime customs leads us to ponder on broader patterns in our interactions and relationships during the pandemic. Unable to be physically together in one space, we struggled to maintain even the most effortless of friendships through phone calls, text messages, and video calls — mediums that demand constant hyper-awareness of what is said and what to say. Every exchange was mediated, carefully crafted in the pauses and uncertainties in between.

In these interactions, we lost what we had once unknowingly cherished: the simple joy of being in good company without having to meticulously plan our every next move, of existing with loved ones just for the sake of it. We hope the rebirth of Yardfest and other cherished events signals a rebirth of unguided interaction — of friendships built upon haphazard experiences, and not just calculated conversations.

Most crucially, we expect this process to lead us to a true “normal,” not a watered-down semi-normal. Covid-19 burned out a wide gap in Harvard’s institutional memory; only the Class of 2022 experienced a fully in-person freshman year. We fear accordingly that some smaller traditions will fall into this crevice, forgotten as no one thought to ensure their survival.

Harvard administrators should step in to guide us towards this complete renewal, whether or not our collective memory can pin it down. Covid must not be an excuse to trim costs or downgrade our college experience. A revival of summer House storage and full restoration of abandoned gathering places like the Lamont Café both constitute excellent starting points here. The Harvard community depends on our longest-standing members to reorient us in ways we — blinded by brevity — cannot entirely imagine.

In a similar vein, we call upon older students to reopen lost channels between students of different ages at the College. When online, we were robbed of opportunities for the important cultural transference from upperclassmen to first-years.

Hypercompetitiveness, for one, was mitigated among pre-pandemic incoming classes through a mix of tough love and advice from upperclassmen — ‘no one cares about your high school resume,’ they might have said (even if not in so many words), and first-years listened. Moreover, in bringing distinct age groups together, these in-person networks actively combat hierarchy. We eagerly await their return.

Our revitalized traditions open an opportunity for further cross-College connections. Covid-19 shut off casual friendships that existed simply by virtue of occupying the same space — friends we wave to when crossing Mass. Ave or smile from across lecture halls. Large, community-wide rituals and gatherings promise a valuable opportunity to reconnect with peers that we otherwise might rarely see and never get to know.

To the Class of 2026, our first in-person Visitas class in years, we encourage you to take note of these traditions wherever you notice them. Cherish them. Practice them. Soon, they will be yours to pass on.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. 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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