Roommates Tatiana Patino and Walburga Khumalo are pictured as first-year students and then as seniors before they move off campus.

First-year roommates Tatiana Patino (left) and Walburga Khumalo enter Stoughton Hall where they lived in 2017. Four years later, Wal and Tati take one more photo together before moving out. Khumalo made the poster in the background, which is supposed to be a trendier version of the two.

File photo Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

An enduring bond

Students we interviewed in 2017, now seniors, reflect on the friendships forged with their first-year roommates

8 min read

Walburga Khumalo likes to joke that Harvard should set her up with her future husband because her College roommate of four years, Tatiana Patino, turned out to be the perfect match.

Khumalo and Patino, and three other sets of roommates from the Class of 2020, first gave the Gazette a glimpse of life inside the dorms for a photo story in 2017. We recently checked back in with them. Not only were most still cohabitating up until campus was cleared in response to the coronavirus outbreak, but all remain good friends.

‘Roommates and best friends’

Walburga Khumalo, Tatiana Patino

First-year roommates Tatiana Patino and Walburga Khumalo in the room they shared in Stoughton Hall in 2017.

File photo by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

File photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

“It really was how all friendships go,” Khumalo said. “Telling each other personal stories, sharing clothes and food, living through each other’s drama, celebrating each other’s highs, and mourning lows together.”

The environmental science and public policy concentrator from South Africa said that when it came time to find a roomie sophomore year, sticking with “Tati” was the obvious choice.

“Wal and I have stayed roommates and best friends,” said Patino, an English concentrator from Georgia. “… We work really well with each other and we know when to give each other space.”

Asked how they’ve influenced each other, Khumalo says that as the more decisive of the two she has taught Patino it’s OK to put herself first. Alternatively, she said, “Tati is a way more positive person and that’s definitely seeped into how I perceive life and struggles.”

As they finish their senior years remotely, the two have stayed in touch, with plans to visit each other’s extended families in South Africa and Colombia, once it is safe to do so. Khumalo plans to move to Boston after graduation; Patino is eying Boston or New York City.

“She is someone that I can always count on,” Patino said, “and every time I have needed her, she has been there. Given that Wal is an international student, I made her memorize my phone number so that she always has it, and now I am her emergency contact on her new lease.”

Khumalo, Justin Jang, and Patino grab a photo on the slopes earlier this year. Jang is one of Patino’s best friends from high school who attends West Point. Patino and Khumalo bask in the evening sun on the terrace of the Quincy Faculty Deans’ suite with their block mates. From left are Angela Rangira, Mfundo Radebe, Patino, Khumalo, Maribelle Dickins, and Lisa Matay.

Sacred Saturdays

Enxhi Buxheli, Rebecca Chen, Georgia Seidel, Kristie Colton

Thayer House first-year friends, Kristie Colton (from left), Georgia Seidel, and Rebecca Chen.

File photo by Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Back in 2017.

File photos by Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

In the fall of their senior year, Enxhi Buxheli, Rebecca Chen, Georgia Seidel, and Kristie Colton made a pact to “protect” their Saturdays, which meant spending the day together, often off-campus. “Lowell E-101,” the name they gave their group, hopped on a bus to go apple-picking, visited Boda Borg for reality gaming adventures, went to the movies, hiked, and even set up a tent for indoor camping.

When they didn’t feel like going out, they’d do a movie night or indulge in facial masks, lounging on the big beanbag that took up half their common room.

“Our protected Saturdays were honestly the highlights of my college experience,” said Buxheli, calling them “a time to refresh and get away from schoolwork.”

Chen, Seidel, and Colton met as first-years in Thayer Hall and by senior year had brought Buxheli into the fold.

Buxheli studies physics; Chen, economics; Colton, computer science; and Seidel psychology.

Despite their differences, Chen said, “We can be ourselves around each other, and I think we understand each other to an unsettling extent.

“I took a gap semester — which is a full nine months apart with breaks — and nothing changed, which is a testament to the strength of our friendship.”

These days, Chen is living on Harvard’s campus, spending many hours on FaceTime; Buxheli is in Florida with her family; Colton’s dad is teaching her to cook at home in Utah; and Seidel has returned to the Australian farm where she grew up.

Seidel writes, “Everything we did together was fun … even homework wasn’t that bad. We would seriously chat and laugh all day if we could. Once again this is going to sound lame but having all of us together in the same room really made going back to our dorm feel like going home at the end of the day.”

As seniors outside Lowell House: Chen (from left), Colton, Seidel, and Enxhi Buxheli. Apple-picking on a “Sacred Saturday,” Seidel (from left), Chen, Colton, and Buxheli.

A rendering of Harvard University senior year roommates: Georgia Seidel (the artist), Rebecca Chen, Kristie Colton and Enxhi Buxheli.
A rendering of Harvard University senior year roommates: Georgia Seidel (the artist), Rebecca Chen, Kristie Colton, and Enxhi Buxheli.

An impromptu graduation

Luke Xu, Abdul Saleh, Sung Ahn, Kenneth Shinozuka, Clifford “Scotty” Courvoisier

Luke Xu (from left), Abdul Saleh, Sung Ahn, Kenneth Shinozuka, and Clifford “Scotty” Courvoisier in Holworthy Hall.

File photo by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Outside Annenberg Hall and in Memorial Hall in 2017.

File photos by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

“During my last few days on campus, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what Harvard has taught me over the past four years. I think the one thing that I am most grateful for are the lifelong friendships I made while at Harvard,” Abdul Saleh said. “When I first arrived here, I got matched with freshman roommates who were very different from me, but quickly became my lifelong friends.”

Saleh started his time at Harvard with Holworthy Hall roommates Luke Xu, Sung Ahn, Kenneth Shinozuka, and Clifford “Scotty” Courvoisier. They remained close friends for all four years though they eventually moved into different undergraduate houses.

As students were sent home amid the coronavirus outbreak in March, the five friends made the most of the time they had left together. Courvoisier documented it for a story published in Business Insider on March 14. Courvoisier writes, “With the five-day deadline hanging over our heads, we decided to focus on the positive. … Indeed, the unfortunate circumstances have only bolstered our sense of compassion and togetherness.”

Feeling they needed closure and considering the very real possibility that Commencement would be canceled, they staged their own graduation.

The five former roommates and a few friends marched under Johnston Gate, which they arrived through as first-years. Winding their way through the Yard, they sang an a cappella version of “Pomp and Circumstance.” A friend handed each senior their “diploma” as they cheered for one another. Finally, they departed through Dexter Gate on Massachusetts Avenue, which bears this inscription: “Depart to Serve Better Thy Country and Thy Kind.”

The friends stage an informal graduation ceremony before leaving campus and display makeshift “diplomas” at Dexter Gate.

Photos by Alyssa Truong ’21

Ready to sign a lease together

Soheil Sadabadi, Andrew Cho, Michael Shadpour, Scott Kall, Arpan Sarkar

Roommates sit outside Wigglesworth on what they call their “porch” in 2017: Soheil Sadabadi (from left), Andrew Cho, Michael Shadpour, Scott Kall, and Arpan Sarkar.

File photo by Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Back in 2017.

File photos by Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

First-year Wigglesworth roommates, Soheil Sadabadi from Iran, Andrew Cho from Arizona, Michael Shadpour from California, Scott Kall from Massachusetts, and Arpan Sarkar from Tennessee, remain tight to this day. All but Kall ended up blocking together in Currier.

“Our blocking group is made up entirely of people from our freshman entryway,” Sarkar said. “The bonds we developed amongst each other were so strong, that eight out of 16 members of our entryway decided to block together. My blocking group has been a cornerstone of my College experience, and I’ve spent almost every waking moment of my four years at Harvard with Andrew, Soheil, and Michael. I’ve loved and cherished every minute with them.”

Shadpour is back in Los Angeles, where he grew up; Sarkar returned to Nashville; Sadabadi remains on campus; and Cho is living in Cambridge. While future plans are up in the air, at least three of the original five Wigglesworth “porch mates” hope to be living together in Boston next year.

“Arp and Michael joined an RSO, and we were their +1s (dates) to an event,” Soheil said. “We decided to take a sorority style date pic. The pic was quite challenging to take, because originally we were stupid enough to have Cho try and lift Arpan, which didn’t work out well.” Following the announcement that the remainder of the spring semester would take place remotely, Sarkar (from left), Sadabadi, Isaiah Johnson (from their block), Shadpour, and Cho, gather for a group photo on the steps of Widener Library.