I had spent months imagining what my first day at Harvard would be like. Little did I imagine it beginning with a big vacuum strapped to my back and a bucket full of cleaning supplies in hand.
Despite it being the middle of August, the cool 60-degree weather left my Florida-self feeling very chilly as a group of us made our way over to Winthrop House with these supplies to start our day. Nothing could tamper with my excitement for the day - my Harvard journey was beginning, and I was excited to see what it would have in store.
That day was the first day of the Fall Clean Up program. FCU is one of the many pre-orientation programs for first-year students, meant to help us get accustomed to life on campus as well as meet some of our peers. I was excited to get to know my classmates that I would spend the week working with, as well as those I would be living on campus with for the upcoming four years. Within our group, we quickly learned that the FCU groups were determined based on some common characteristic, and that our group was composed of people who did not even finish the application to the program. “How did we even get here,” we all laughed once we figured this out. This very quickly became a point of bonding, turning this group of strangers into a community.
An empty suite in Winthrop became our meeting point, and when we weren’t working in the dorms we spent our time enjoying the view of the Charles River from the Winthrop courtyard. During the week, I met Jessica on the walks to and from Harvard Yard to get more supplies. As our slower walking pace often put us at the rear of the group, we quickly bonded over how much more walking we were doing now that cars weren’t our main mode of transportation. In Winthrop, Tony and I spent the entire week vacuuming suite after suite as we slowly got to know each other as well. At the end of the day, nothing quite brings people together like FCU work does.
While I had been excited during FCU, I had not been sure how long these newfound relationships would last. But to this day, these people have remained some of my closest friends. Jessica became my sophomore year roommate, and Tony is our linkmate (a friend who, throughout your upper-level years, lives in one of the houses near yours). Together, we would continue to work for Dorm Crew as part of the Inspections crew, doing monthly checks on things such as exit signs and fire doors in different dorms. Another girl from the group became our blockmate, and yet another one of our linkmates did FCU as well. That single week of pre-orientation impacted my college experience more than I could have imagined, and I know I would not have formed some of the deep friendships I had if it weren’t for this program.
It all came full circle during Housing Day when, against all odds, Jessica, my other blockmates and I were assigned to Winthrop House for our upper-level housing. While this assignment was completely random, this result and coincidence was nonetheless surprising. After spending so much time in this house during my first week on campus, coming full circle to now living in this same house with some of the people I had met during that time was a surreal feeling.
This year, pre-orientation programs will be taking place virtually. However, I hope that they will still present an ability to connect with peers and form these lasting friendships, as I know that this experience is one I could not imagine my college experience without.