Harvard at Dusk
Dusk has always been my favorite time to walk around Harvard’s campus. The windows of our brick buildings reflect the hazy pink sky with the clarity of still water. The campus has usually quieted down from the bustle of class time as people settle back into their Houses for dinner. Even the leaves seem to rustle just a bit slower. During the busiest, midterm-packed stretches of the semester, if I happened to pass through the Yard or along Divinity Avenue at dusk, I’d often stop to admire the beauty around me. It would be a fleeting moment to reflect on my gratitude. While a first-year, I often walked through Harvard in awe of my place there; as a senior, I had become used to taking this place for granted.
My partner and I took one last stroll through the Yard at dusk the day before we had to leave campus for good. The campus was quiet, not from the absence of students at dinner in their Houses, but from the mass evacuation that had occurred during the past few days due to COVID-19. I felt as if I had undergone a tremendous loss. And because loss is often nonsensical, my emotions were everywhere—angry, joyous, somber, confused—as my mind grasped for meaning.
Maybe there is supposed to be some lesson in all of this, a friend suggested. Most of my friends and I had spent the majority of our second semester tucked away in the basement of Lamont Library, stressing over our senior theses. That included weekends, too. We refrained from going out to too many parties or bars—that was what the second half of senior spring would be for, we said. That was the payoff we had been promised. Had we instead taken this all for granted?
Before the evacuation protocol rolled out, my partner was supposed to travel with me to Los Angeles just hours after I submitted my senior thesis. We often motivated ourselves to push through writing by imagining what it would be like to finally leave campus for spring break. It still excites me to think about swapping our mugs of coffee and tea by the library computers for cold beer by the beach. I was burned-out, and I wished that the dreary and tedious demands of coursework would end.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the recent turn of events is supposed to teach me, other than to be careful what I wish for. I was grasping for meaning as I watched my life as a college student slip through my fingers.
COVID-19 was meant to produce social-distancing measures; instead, it brought the students closer. Those last five days before Harvard shut down saw no shortage of parties and gatherings (most under 25 students, of course). How else do you cram 10 weeks of senior spring into just five days? Jamming out to “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston at Jin Karaoke in Boston with my Adams House friends, I wondered when next we might all come together for a meal in the dining hall by pure chance. Dancing and drinking cheap champagne in a friend’s room on Friday night, I stopped to take in how beautifully warm and inspired my friends have made me feel over the years. Holding my roommates’ hands in our common room, I cried because there was no time to cry—because I wanted to have pure joy, just joy, without feeling the desperation and loss that had been twisted into our time remaining together on campus.
I’d like to think that I did my best to honor my loved ones in my daily actions at school. As with my strolls through Harvard Yard at dusk, I often had fleeting thoughts, beginning in my junior year, about what it might be like to lose all of this after graduation. But for the most part, I’m not ashamed to say that I took most of Harvard for granted. I’m not ashamed because for the first time in a very long time, I felt safe and supported—partly because I was able to take things for granted. To take things for granted can impart some semblance of stability and unconditional love that will sustain you, even when you can’t give your fullest. If that’s the case, then I feel so lucky that I took for granted my Harvard experience before its abrupt end.
It pains me that perhaps I won’t be able to ever take my Harvard experiences for granted again. I’ll never be able to walk through the Yard unthinkingly again, rushing by the buildings on my way to a long lab session or another thesis-writing stint in the library. Every stroll will necessarily recall that last walk at dusk. But dusk is a fleeting, transitional moment anyway. It’s a bridge into the next step that awaits me.