Nico Fidalgo from Bentonville, Arkansas, had just grabbed his room key and Harvard ID from a large tent in front of Weld Hall. He was texting his mom that he was heading back to his dorm room so they could unpack.
That was when Jang Choe approached. “Hey, Nico, it’s me!” he said.
The roommates immediately recognized each other from their Instagram photos as they laughed and embraced Thursday in the middle of Harvard Yard, surrounded by the sounds and bustle of move-in day for the third and final group of first-year students to arrive.
Everywhere students and families hustled and strained in the damp, summery heat to unload cars stuffed with clothing, furniture, supplies. Suitcase wheels rolled along the gravel. From several speakers around the Quad issued an upbeat playlist of hits by Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Imagine Dragons. Always in the background bursts of nervous laughter, excited introductions, bittersweet partings.
“It’s [our] chance to make a new identity in a new place,” said Khalil F. Ben-Gacem, a Tunisian student from London, who echoed what many of the first-years settling into the Quad felt.
And there to help hoist boxes, bags, and suitcases upstairs were new classmates, tutors, proctors, resident deans, and administrators, including President Larry Bacow and his wife, Adele. In fact, for many of the families who pulled up to Matthews Hall around 9 a.m., the Bacows were the first to welcome them.
“This time of year is always special on a college campus,” said Bacow. “It’s a time of renewal for those of us who live and work here.”
For first-year students in particular, “It’s about new beginnings,” Bacow added. “It’s about the start of their Harvard career. It’s about making lifelong friends. It’s about discovery.”
Joining the Bacows were Claudine Gay, Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Katherine O’Dair, dean of students and newly appointed University Marshal; Lauren Brandt, associate dean of students; and Rakesh Khurana, Danoff Dean of Harvard College.
The group made their way around the Yard introducing themselves and offering a helping hand where they could, including fully unloading two packed cars by Wigglesworth.
For Gay, being in the middle of the action is part of what makes the day so special.
“There are many parents and families who haven’t been to our campus before, so it’s just exciting to be present when they’re having that first moment of discovery,” Gay said. “They’re part of this now.”
To the untrained eye there may appear to be a hint of chaos, but actually move-in day runs like a well-oiled machine as families are ushered in, instructed where to go, and offered assistance, answers, and assurances. In a large tent in front of Weld Hall students are registered, receive bits of Harvard swag and necessities, like keys and ID.
The first thing Kuma L. McCraw did after receiving his ID, for instance, was show it to his mom and dad, who made the trip from the San Francisco Bay area with him. McCraw said he was eager to settle into his room in Weld, meet his roommates, and find a place for his Pikachu plush that reminds him of home.
The swag was a magnet for some first-years who’d moved in a few days earlier as part of pre-orientation groups. Andreea Haidau from Chicago and Nicolette Reale from Long Island, both a part of the First-Year Outdoor Program, picked up a pair of Harvard Crimson sweatshirts while looking around and soaking in the day’s vibrant energy.
“For most of us, it’s such a big difference in comparison to what we’re used to,” Reale said. “You have this opportunity to get involved in a host of different experiences that you’ve not touched before. There’s no option but to change what you’ve been doing.”
For parents, the moment, while a proud one, is often difficult. In between lugging bags and boxes, many parents expressed sentiments similar to those Pallavi Rangu offered her daughter Gowri.
“We just want her to drop all her inhibitions and just take full advantage of what Harvard offers her,” Rangu said. “She’s going to grow as a person here. … and chase her dreams.”
The Class of 2026 will attend Convocation in person at Tercentenary Theatre on Tuesday. Classes begin for all students on Sept. 6.
Until then, fueling students and families on an almost 90-degree move-in day was an adrenaline shot of enthusiasm, anticipation, and hope.
“I feel excited and also nervous because it’s so far away from home,” said Fidalgo. “But it’s beautiful here, and I can see myself and feel myself fitting in already. … It feels like a new chapter.”