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Harvard’s Planning for an In-Person Fall Comes As ‘A Relief’ to College Students

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Margaret P. “Maggie” McCarthy ’22-’23 said she had not yet checked her email when she noticed the group chat with her Harvard basketball teammates was blowing up.

“I actually just received a text in my group chat on my team, and girls were excited. I was like, ‘What’s all this excitement about?’” she said. “They told me to check my email so I checked and, even though I kind of expected in the back of my mind, there was a huge surge of excitement.”

Many students reacted with elation to Monday’s announcement that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is “expecting a full return to campus” and a return to “in-person learning” for the fall 2021 semester.

Jay T. Driver ’24 said he was thrilled to “finally get some good news” after a year marred by disappointing announcements from Harvard.

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“This is really good news to finally see a light at the end of the tunnel and know that, hopefully by next fall, we’ll all be able to be there and have things be back to normal,” he said.

Some students said they were surprised by the timing and tone of Harvard’s announcement.

Shreya P. Nair ’24 said she was surprised that Harvard administrators decided to share fall plans before the end of the spring semester.

“We weren’t expecting an announcement to come before the summer, in general, because we’ve known Harvard to be pretty conservative in terms of estimating with Covid,” Nair said. “It was a surprise, but a welcome one.”

Nair said she and her friends have already begun planning for their reunion on campus this fall.

“The small interactions that we’ll be able to have again — running into people in between classes, in-person labs — I’m definitely looking forward to,” Nair said. “We’re excited to see the buildings and be on a historic campus, and have all those first-year experiences, albeit a little bit delayed.”

Jacob A. Heberle ’22 said he was “pleasantly surprised” by Harvard’s expectations for the fall, noting Harvard’s restrictions on residential life throughout the past year.

“It’s still a surprise because Harvard, I think, has had one of the most conservative responses to Covid of all the schools,” Heberle said. “The fact that it seems that they’re going ahead with a return to normal things in the fall is actually quite a surprise.”

Casey D. Dornbach ’22 said he had been hoping Harvard would bring him and his classmates back to campus next semester.

“I was optimistic, but you never know until those decisions are made,” he said. “So it was definitely a relief to get that notice today.”

Dornbach, a member of Harvard’s men’s ice hockey team, said he is excited to return to campus with the prospect of competing on the ice once again.

“I have another year of eligibility next year,” he said. “It happens to be senior year, and I can go back with my closest friends and teammates and classmates and have one more great year back on campus.”

Harvard Director of Athletics Erin McDermott said in a February interview that she believes an Ivy League fall season is “pretty assured.”

Driver, a freshman who spent his first semester on campus, said he is looking forward to meeting upperclassmen.

“I got quadded, but I’m not mad about it,” he said. “I’m actually really excited to meet everybody who’s around me there and, obviously, I think everybody will be in a good mood because everybody will be really happy to be back together.”

“I feel like I’m going to have a second freshman year,” he added.

Sophia N. Fend ’24, who is living on campus this year, said though she is excited, she is nervous to get a more “typical college experience” this fall.

“I know where nothing is. I haven’t had an in-person college class at all — kind of don’t know what to expect,” Fend said. “Everyone has that to a certain extent just because we’ve been online for so long.”

Heberle said he is thankful he will likely spend his senior year on campus.

“I don’t know what I would have done had they decided not to do things as normal,” he said. “I don’t want another semester lost in my time at Harvard.”

Though Heberle noted that the FAS’s plans are not yet definitive, Monday’s announcement was reassuring.

“We shouldn’t pack our bags already, book our tickets already until we know for certain that this is how things are going to go,” Heberle said. “Regardless, I think today everyone at Harvard is going to go to bed a little bit happier than they were yesterday.”

—Staff writer Alex M. Koller can be reached at alex.koller@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @alexmkoller.

—Staff writer Taylor C. Peterman can be reached at taylor.peterman@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @taylorcpeterman.

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