They lay on tables in tall, neat stacks - hardcover finish, with the Harvard logo imprinted on the cover and yellow-ish lined pages within.
Choosing carefully between black and red, I gently took a black journal as part of the Harvard Journal Project. For the rest of my first year on campus, we would receive an email with a prompt for the week. These prompts, meant to encourage us to reflect on our experiences and how our time at Harvard was impacting us, became a time when I could take a deep breath and pause in the midst of busy campus life.
I loved to write while I sat on my wide windowsill in my first-year dorm room in Hollis. Curled up with a blanket and pillows, looking out upon Harvard Yard with a warm cup of tea in my hands, I would often spend my evenings thinking about and responding to these questions. With each entry, the ribbon marker would move deeper into the journal as the pages filled with words. Whether the entry was merely a page or stretched on and on, this time of introspection always led me to notice the joy within the simple, everyday aspects of college life.
A year later, I was living in a suite in Winthrop House, with windows looking out at the Charles River. And then, all at once, I was not. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were given five days to leave campus. From packing our lives in a matter of days to saying goodbye to friends not knowing when we would see them again, we all were left navigating a world unlike any we had experienced before. Even more quickly, we were scattered all over this new world, self-isolating for weeks and transitioning to online classes in the process.
For me, this tumultuous time took me back home to Florida. Now, sitting at my desk in my bedroom with palm fronds outside my window, I stumbled across my black reflection journal. Flipping through the pages, the questions scrawled in there once again led me to drift off.
“What are some things you were once afraid of, but are no longer?”
Is it even possible to have a mid-college crisis? The thought of finishing my sophomore year and being halfway through college already felt surreal - however, having it cut short was nothing that I could have imagined or prepared for. With every lecture held over Zoom, I missed seeing my peers in class more and more. With each assignment I completed back home at my dining table, I missed the late night work sessions with friends in the Winthrop dining hall. And as the semester drew to an end, I became more aware of our limited time on campus.
While the gravity of this pandemic and the desire to help keep those around me safe is always a priority, I nonetheless continued to worry about missing out on this time to learn and grow with some of the most amazing people I have ever known. It is hard to not be worried about what comes next, and how we can possibly adapt to all of this. But then, as I flipped through the pages some more, another question came up.
“What have been some of the happiest moments of your life so far? What made these moments special?”
Immediately, the day of my acceptance comes to mind. In spite of the weeks of uncertainty leading up to that day, I still remember opening that email and the surreal feeling of excitement and disbelief that came with it. That same joy continues to be a part of the everyday moments of Harvard life, coming up in small sparks and lacing itself through the simplest of things. It pops up as I dance at a social with the ballroom team, or as I grab more bubble tea with my friends. It came from being with and learning from the people around me, and it never failed to challenge and inspire me.
Moments such as these started to become routine as more time went by. Because of this, not having this same routine remotely left me lost at first, unsure of what to do next. However, even now that I am almost 1500 miles away from campus, this community continues to inspire me to work harder and do better. If anything, the ability to look at Harvard life from the outside has only strengthened these bonds and aspirations as well as made me appreciate this amazing opportunity more. For Harvard is more than just the time we spend on campus - it is the beginning of lifelong connections, ones that exist regardless of whether we are on campus or not.
I had closed and shelved my first-year reflection journal more than a year ago now, but opening it back up brought me straight back to my wide-eyed, first-year self. And now as I think about starting my junior year, a year that will be unlike any academic experience any of us have ever had, the more certain I become that I chose the right place for me.
For while it was the thought of Harvard that made me excited to attend this institution, it is the people that made me fall in love with it.
In the midst of missing campus, I know that the people of Harvard are Harvard. And no matter what, I know that this is the part of Harvard that I love and that will impact me the most.