Valeria Barriobero looked happy, a little harried, maybe a little nervous as she moved her things across the Yard to her new home in Thayer Hall on Friday.
“Just walking around the campus already, you see so many different people who come from so many different places,” said the 18-year-old Miami native, who was getting help with her stuff from her parents and boyfriend. “I’m just so excited to be able to interact with them and learn from all of the experience that they have.”
Barriobero was part of the third and final group of first-years to move into their dorms, a process that began two days before. The center of campus vibrated with activity as members of Class of 2025, one of the largest ever at Harvard, were welcomed by new classmates, resident deans, and administrators who rolled up their sleeves to help with boxes, bags, and suitcases.
“I missed running into students and talking to them. It feels like a university again,” said President Larry Bacow, who had just come downstairs after helping carry one student’s gear. “I’m looking forward to getting to know them over something other than Zoom. There’s a level of excitement in part because no one took this for granted — it’s actually happening, we’re here.”
Bacow was joined by his wife Adele, along with Claudine Gay, Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Katherine “Katie” O’Dair, Dean of Students, Nekesa Straker, Senior Assistant Dean of Residential Life and First-Year Students, Rakesh Khurana, Danoff Dean of Harvard College, and others. All of whom looked as delighted as the first-years and their families at the joyous, if somewhat chaotic, spectacle of move-in, particularly after the past stretch of more restrictive pandemic limits since March of 2020.
“It’s wonderful,” Gay said. “To see this campus coming reanimated and return to its natural state, which is alive with people and all the emotion of in person interaction and all the ambient energy that comes with that. It feels tremendous. It feels like it gives us the fuel we need to carry us through the whole next year.”
O’Dair said that students’ enthusiasm and excitement could be felt reverberating around campus. She said everyone she had spoken to, from students to staff working rotations in residences, were happy to be back on campus. “It is one of the best weeks of my career,” she said.
A gathering of first-years on the Widener steps shared their hopes for the upcoming semester, which included socializing with new people, creating meaningful relationships, and attending in-person classes.
As Aaron Zheng of Auburn, Mass. put it: “Learning learning again.”
Diego Sotelo agrees but in addition he said he couldn’t wait to get on the mat and join his new teammates on the wrestling team. The 18-year-old athlete’s father, Ralph Sotelo, said he can’t wait to see his son compete and hopes he’ll get a starting spot.
A few sophomores were also spotted in the Yard on Friday. Gabrielle Grant and Julia Gavel, who will be living in the Quad this year, were busy transporting Grant’s cello to Sanders Theatre. While neither are first-years, both are looking forward to getting a chance to experience actual life on campus.
After spending the last academic year online due to the pandemic, 19-year-old Grant said it feels amazing to be on campus. Gavel, also 19, agreed. “I haven’t fully grasped that I’m at Harvard, honestly,” she admitted. “I’m so excited to go into the classrooms…and being able to talk to people.”
The classes of 2024 and 2025 will attend Convocation in-person at Tercentenary Theatre on Tuesday. Classes will begin for all students on Sept. 1.
“It is very exciting,” Straker said. “We have basically spent the last 18 months waiting for this moment and for this opportunity. Just to see the students being happy, excited to be here, meeting and greeting each other, it’s just great!”
Straker urged students to wear masks and follow all health precautions as the pandemic continues to affect the country. She also had some safety advice: try new things but do so in a safe way.
“As you learn more about what it means to live on campus with others, I encourage you to take your time as you explore and try new things,” Straker said in prepared remarks about the help-seeking policy. “If you’re ever in a situation where you or someone you know need assistance, please reach out to HUPD, UHS or residential staff.”
New HUPD Police Chief Victor Clay shared a few safety tips for new students of his own: be mindful of where you are, secure property out of view, and most importantly, never be afraid to ask for help if you feel unsafe.
“I’m like a first year too,” Clay added. “I want to become a part of the fabric here.”