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The only aspect of Harvard that has remained consistently normal over the past two years is the fact that “normalcy” has been thrown out the window. As students, we were insulated from the worst effects of the pandemic — more so than many others who found their health and livelihoods fully undone. But we lived through it, too, and we changed in ways we may never fully be capable of measuring.
In the fall of 2020, freshmen entered dorms and dining halls for the first time as the only class invited back to campus. To compound that isolation, the Class of 2024 was barred from entering many of the physical spaces on campus, from classrooms to study spaces to even the dorm rooms next door. All events — entryway meetings, Crimson Jam, the activities fair, classes — were held online. Normalcy for the Class of 2024 meant matching half-covered faces with names glimpsed from Zoom frames, carving out little moments of human connection in a masked reality of indefinite duration.
The Class of 2023 was a little luckier. Current seniors got to keep their first semester of normal Harvard, though memories of it faded after a year of remote learning and another of masks and Covid-19 restrictions.
The Class of 2025 will get their four full years on campus, even if their first was distorted by limitations on student life.
And now we’ve welcomed the Class of 2026 — the first of our current College generation, if all remains well, to get four normal years at Harvard.
Soon enough, the pandemic’s decisive hold on our daily lives will become a memory, leaving just the strange, one-of-a-kind camaraderie that arose to fill the moments we lost. Each of us has built up a trove of Covid-19 war stories to share amongst friends; our future children will have to suffer through regular retellings of pandemic joys and hardships where the moral of the story — inevitably, annoyingly, hopefully — is that we had it harder than them.
In the meantime, though, we are awash in the tenderness of our return, wandering through a contradiction of loss and joy where everything normal is new.
Imagine you ordered a bunch of packages from your favorite stores — clothes and curios and gifts you dreamt of having for years. But then, out of the blue, every single package was lost, voided, damaged in transit. You learned to accept why. You figured out how to deal with it.
And now, two years later, long after you ordered the packages or even remembered what was in them, they’ve all come flooding back. Each day, you get a new one, a once-treasured trinket that you forgot you’d ever had.
This fall, our packages are returning. We are all a little sad to discover some of the things we missed, like the joyful ambiance of Crimson Jam and the culinary promise of Cabot Cafe. But we’re thrilled, too, at the resurgence of these old traditions, and find ourselves comforted by their quick absorption among members of our youngest class.
In fact, there’s an absurdist joy in seeing the freshmen enjoy opening days as their stereotypical lanyard-wearing and pack-traveling selves, partaking in the debauchery of river parties and Tasty Basement ragers with no regard for the desperate times that spurred these pandemic-era innovations into existence. We watch in wonder as our younger friends live out a freshman year so much richer than ours, enjoying the oblivion of normalcy that is finally ours to share.
Importantly, however, we need not be passive as we process this change; together, we can redefine what is normal, in big ways and small. The end of pandemic-era restrictions means no more mandatory masking, no more shuttered cafes, and — we ask — a return to widespread hot breakfast. But more seriously, it also means keeping our immunocompromised peers top of mind as we strive for a new normal that protects those most vulnerable to Covid-19.
Balancing our competing priorities in a post-Covid world will require grace — with others, when we disagree, and with ourselves when we mess up.
But through it all, packages that we never thought would come will keep arriving. As we open them, let’s savor the absurd joy of a new normal that will only get better as we continue to define it along the way.
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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