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‘We Thought That Was Our Due’: The Class of 1999 Enters the New Millennium

The Class of 1999 graduated amid heightened concerns about global computer errors stemming from the calendar shift to the new millennium.
The Class of 1999 graduated amid heightened concerns about global computer errors stemming from the calendar shift to the new millennium. By Crimson Design Staff
By Aran Sonnad-Joshi, Crimson Staff Writer

Only months out of college, the Class of 1999 had just begun their new lives post-Harvard when the world entered the new millennium.

“Everybody, when they graduate from college, thinks of that as being the most important thing in the entire world — that you’re graduating and you’re launching out into the universe,” said Chana S. Zimmerman ’99, a former Crimson news editor. “The fact that the turn of the millennium was gonna be the following year, we thought that was our due.”

“It just seemed normal because, all of our lives, we had known that we would graduate in 1999,” she added, noting that their official class song was Prince’s “Party Like It’s 1999.”

While members of the Class of 1999 say that nervousness over Y2K — the global panic over expected computer errors once calendars rolled over to the new millennium — and excitement over a new millennium did not predominantly feature during their time at Harvard, their senior year and lives immediately afterward were shaped by trends that continue through today — including the introduction of modern-day technology. The Crimson would launch the first edition of its website in the fall of 1998.

“Freshman year, we used the Yahoo directory to navigate the web,” said Adam R. Kovacevich ’99. “Gradually, people started using Alta Vista as our first search engine, and then I think we became aware of Google, really, near the end of our time there.

Careers in tech companies, Zimmerman says, had just begun to take off as an option for the newly-minted graduates.

“It was one of those careers that your parents wouldn’t really understand what it was you were doing,” she said.

“By the time we graduated from school, the internet had taken over everything,” Zimmerman said. “You could buy things on the internet. We were well on our way to doing what you can do now — minus the smartphones — and it was a massive dislocation.”

In just four years, the Class of 1999 witnessed huge changes in the way that people interacted with the internet — including the introduction of e-mail, which rapidly spread after it arrived at Harvard in 1994, just one year before the Class of 1999.

“My first email was a Harvard email on a Pine server — like black screen, green text. I didn't know anything about etiquette of email and that kind of communication using the web,” said Nicole L. “Nikki” DeBlosi ’99 said.

Technology also spread to other corners of the University, including the library system.

“Widener was still using card catalogs, and was just moving over to digitizing everything,” DeBlosi said.”

The increased usage of technology at Harvard followed the wider technological boom throughout the country, leading to more graduates pursuing jobs in technology after college. Despite that, tech recruiting still took place on a much smaller scale than contemporary recruiting.

“There were not a lot,” Kovacevich said of students pursuing careers in the tech industry. “Microsoft was the most prominent company recruiting people out of college into tech jobs, and there were a couple of people I remember who went to work for Microsoft.”

As the year 2000 approached, the national conversation about Y2K began to dominate as members of the class started their lives after college.

“There was a lot of frantic coverage in the time before the rollover, so this was right after we had started working,” Zimmerman said. “There was a lot of questions about, ‘Would the world just sort of turn off when we rolled over from ’99 to 2000?’”

“But of course, it did not,” she added. “It turned out that everything was fine.”

“I think it was a real concern,” DeBlosi said. “The way that I felt about it was like, ‘I already don't know how this computer works. I’m here reading literature and analyzing pop culture, and probably someone will take care of it, and it will be fine.’”

But for Kovacevich, it was not a major concern while the class was still at Harvard.

“I don’t remember it coming up at all,” he said.

—Staff writer Aran Sonnad-Joshi can be reached at aran.sonnad-joshi@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @asonnadjoshi.

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