I arrived at Visitas 2017 in a trance. I nearly hadn’t applied to Harvard, and I’d been shocked to see “Congratulations, Malia!” in my email inbox on admissions day.
When I set foot on campus for Visitas, my acceptance still didn’t feel fully real. Walking through the Yard, everyone seemed so at ease; students were wandering through the Yard casually, and pre-frosh were eagerly exchanging phone numbers and sharing their College aspirations. At the time, I couldn’t believe how relaxed everyone on campus seemed. It hadn’t sunk in that I had been admitted, let alone that I was interacting with incredible, intelligent future classmates from all over the world.
Fast-forward a year, and as an intern in the Admissions Office I was responsible for documenting Visitas 2018 on Snapchat. As I navigated events like the research symposium, the activities fair, and brunch in Annenberg, I was transported back to my own Visitas experience.
At that time, I was overwhelmed, excited, and eager to begin my time at Harvard — I didn’t know what to expect. When I arrived, my host and her roommates were anxious to share their experiences as freshmen. I came with the misconception that it might be challenging to meet people I connected with, as a first-gen, low-income student. I was worried that my public education in Idaho would not match the intensity of the courses at Harvard. At the time, as my host listed off her classes, “LS1b,” “Expos 20,” and “Ec 10” may as well have been a different language. Now, I am well acquainted with these courses, and happy to report that I was completely wrong about the difficulty of finding friends.
Re-experiencing Visitas allowed me to reflect on how much I have grown in just one year. During my own Visitas, I attended a cupcake-making event for a Phillips Brooks House Association program called “Strong Women, Strong Girls,” a mentoring program for girls in underserved Boston neighborhoods. I now serve on its board, and it has been the most rewarding part of my time here thus far. The mentors are a diverse, inspiring group of women whom I am proud to call my friends.
I came to College thinking that I wanted to study psychology and neuroscience. While these are definitely still areas of interest, I am also fascinated by the study of history and literature and sociology, thanks to some general education courses I’m taking this semester. Harvard’s liberal arts education has allowed me to explore a wide range of interests, from introductory biology/chemistry to an in-depth survey of the history of capitalism. This structure has not only allowed but encouraged me to study topics that I might otherwise not.
As a pre-frosh, I was worried that Harvard would be full of competitive, isolated students. To my pleasant surprise, I have found that the people here are incredibly friendly and open to conversation. Last weekend, I filmed the activities fair for Snapchat, and instead of being overwhelmed by the many clubs available at Harvard, I was happily greeted with smiles and waves from familiar faces, close friends, and strangers alike. As club members handed out candy and blasted music in the Student Organization Center at Hilles, I couldn’t help but smile, thinking about the support that members of the Harvard community have for one another.
On the way back to the Yard, I met a pre-frosh who was looking for a place to work. I reflected on the late nights I have spent this year laboring on a problem set in Cabot Science Library or finishing an essay in Lamont Cafe with friends. When we arrived in the Yard, my entire blocking group happened to be sitting on the chairs outside, listening to music and working together. They directed the pre-frosh to Lamont, playfully calling out, “We’ve created a Lamonster already!”
When I talked with some pre-frosh later that night about their Visitas experiences, every one of them said that the best part had been the amazing people they met. I found myself echoing their statements, realizing that the best part of my Harvard experience has been the late-night library sessions and “family dinners” with friends, and (loudly) supporting each other’s art, theater, and dance performances throughout the year. As this year’s pre-frosh shared the events they had been to, and their excitement for College, I was reminded of being in their position just a year ago. I feel a renewed sense of excitement to see how I will change in another short year.
As Visitas 2018 came to a close, I am filled with inspiration from the Class of 2022, and I can’t wait to welcome its members to the Harvard community.