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The Moments We Remember Most

On finding happiness during our time at Harvard

By Zoe D. Ortiz and Ruben E. Reyes Jr.
Ruben E. Reyes Jr. ’19, a former Crimson Editorial Chair, is a History & Literature concentrator in Leverett House. Zoe D. Ortiz ’19, a former Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Mather House.

Ruben: We have written twenty-three columns about aspects of Harvard that are unjust and have made us feel small: Racist assumptions about our intelligence and admission to Harvard; being the curricula for our white classmates; being exotified; how Harvard was never built or imagined for people like us; students’ treatment of custodial and dining staff; machismo; The Crimson; and wearing ourselves down for others. For more than three years, we’ve tried speaking truth to power and written columns to help make this campus a bit more equitable, a bit softer.

But, if you seek the most complete account of our time here, you have to remember the joy we felt — a necessary antidote to the bitter poison we faced. Sometimes they came in small bursts, sometimes large ones, but either way they sustained us.

Zoe: Laughter, that’s how I’d describe my highest moments at Harvard. Moments caught between the craziness of college, when time didn’t seem to matter as much and I didn’t notice the responsibilities nagging at me. It felt free, to laugh without inhibition or restriction. Friends who became family, who picked me up in the lowest of moments and made me crack a smile when I wasn’t sure I could keep going. They made me throw my hair back and laugh, in classrooms, the dining hall, walking home from the Yard. Joy would fill me up and bubble out, overflowing with loud exclamations. Harvard became my home in those moments, when happiness overtook the lows and I can’t say I’d ever exchange my memories of this place for another University or life.

R: Here are my joys, the moments and rituals and objects that have saved me. In Sanders Theater, freshman year, week after week, hearing Toni Morrison deliver a series of lectures. Running into Junot Díaz at one of the lectures and becoming a bumbling mess. Listening to Toni Morrison command the audience with her poetic oration, timing, and spitfire wit. Experiencing a living legend and knowing I was witnessing history in progress. Being reminded of the magic of words, and their ability to cut through the hatred, injustice, and absurdity of the world.

Z: Every year here has challenged me in a way that is indescribable. But I found the will to keep going, to keep fighting, because of the beauty in my life. Contentment found me on my first Housing Day. It filled me up as I stood in a dorm room surrounded by my closest friends, with a pounding heart wondering where my home would be for the next three years. Then it came to me again when I was welcomed to the Mather House family by putting my arms around my fellow Matherites and singing “Our House, Mather House, in the middle of the street.” Laughter found me then, too.

R: Six mile runs, sometimes through a cold drizzle, from my dorm room to Topacio, my favorite Salvadoran restaurant in East Boston. One dollar pupusas on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The sound of Spanish in the air, people that looked like my aunts and uncles, and a reminder that the overwhelming whiteness of Harvard is not the complete picture. East Boston, and its gentle acceptance of my visits, has reminded me of my worth.

Z: I spent so much of my time when I arrived here doubting if I was good enough to contribute in classrooms. I didn’t feel like I could speak up. I didn’t know all the words that people were using, couldn’t understand the references they were making, and felt as out-of-place as one could feel. Happiness came to me in the moment when I found my voice. It warmed me when, after years of struggling, I called out a professor in class my sophomore fall for misrepresenting data on immigrants. It stayed with me every day, as I reminded myself that I was good enough, I was worthy, and my words did matter.

R: All the others joys that this page simply can’t hold: margaritas at Border Cafe, Thanksgivings in Branford, Conn., a moment of clarity when writing my thesis, a canceled class on a cloudy day, a fruitful discussion in seminar, learning the lyrics to “Come On Eileen,” Editorial Board meetings at The Crimson three times a week, being invited to appear on Tucker Carlson’s show and then turning down the offer, reggaeton blasting, and every single obnoxious laugh.

Z: I found myself in the little moments and memories that over time have lost their detail, but have never lost the feelings of warmth that they’ve given me. Endless laughter — that’s what I can remember — and if I could do it all over again? I would do it all the same, just for those moments of happiness and joy.

R + Z: This column. This column and its readers. Every comment, every disagreement, every engagement with the words we have written. The countless hours spent sitting with each other, discussing our column and other unrelated chisme. Finding a voice through this column. Knowing ourselves and each other, intimately. Fighting the fear. Writing it down.

Our time at Harvard has been complicated, but no Harvard experience is fully devoid of joy. Make time for joy, look for it outside of the University when needed, and don’t you ever forget that you deserve to live a full, mostly positive life during your short time here.

Ruben E. Reyes Jr. ’19, a former Crimson Editorial Chair, is a History & Literature concentrator in Leverett House. Zoe D. Ortiz ’19, a former Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Mather House.

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