"Though we had to say goodbye under such circumstances ... I am still grateful for so much."Photo courtesy of Rebecca Robertson Harris

On my flight out of Heathrow last week, I began reading a mystery novel, released last year, that takes place specifically in April of 2020. It was jarring, the basics of life in the book that are actually absent now: dining in restaurants, bars, or coffee shops. Nail salons. Sports. Shopping centres. Schools. Those normalities have instead been replaced with words and phrases ubiquitous in our vocabulary in April 2020: Social distancing, flatten the curve, herd immunity. So, on that plane to Dallas, having panic-packed my entire house and closed down my UK life in a matter of days, I began reflecting on what was and could have been, at Cambridge.

Love Letters to Cambridge

These are tough and uncertain times for us all, and a lot of us are left with little closure. Varsity are launching this series to give a platform to students reflecting on the parts of Cambridge they'll miss the most, and to gain some closure through writing. Just email our Features team with a 150-word pitch with your idea!

As an American Communication Studies professor turned Criminology student, I was prepared to be intimidated and ignored by all of the brilliant, future Nobel Prize winners that Cambridge would bring into my life. I mean, my previous university wasn’t even included in the drop-down list on Cambridge’s application page! Instead, very quickly into Michaelmas term - perhaps it was matriculation dinner, perhaps even during Freshers week - I was reminded of what is so enchanting about university life, how effortlessly deep friendships form, and how people of different ages, different nations and religions (even Machine Learning PhDs and Criminology MPhils!) can come together with ease. Sure, my new young friends were the same age as my former students, and maybe some had no idea who Rob Lowe is, or Adam Driver for that matter, but none of that made a difference.

"It was, in an ancient place, new and different and glorious."Rebecca Robertson Harris

Cambridge University was, though cut short for me, the university experience I wish I had had the first and second time around. And not just because of the formal ceremonies and Hogwarts gowns (although, I can’t lie, those were pretty cool). Punting. Pub crawls. Bops. Swaps. Mid-tables. Formals. Feasts. It was, in an ancient place, new and different and glorious.

“Seemingly small moments, things that I took for granted at the time, are already morphing into glowing memories.”

Queens’ College, my beloved home away from home, and the department of Criminology, were lovely and welcoming. Passing by Queens’ Mathematical Bridge would, every time, bring me a shiver of delight: I belong here. I never tired of the bike route along the ancient streets from my house off Mill Road to Sidgwick site, especially the left-hand turn at Ede & Ravenscroft, along which I would think about all the people over all the centuries who made the same turn. When meeting my husband for lunch, I would think of the number of people before me doing the same: riding a bicycle after a lecture to the Eagle, for a pint and some fish and chips. That feeling of belonging, to something in the faraway past and into the faraway future, is something I will carry with me.

"Passing by Queens' Mathematical Bridge would, every time, bring me a shiver of delight..."Rebecca Robertson Harris

Seemingly small moments, things that I took for granted at the time, are already morphing into glowing memories. In November, I giggled with joy after engaging in a lighthearted lunchtime debate at Queens’ about empathy and psychopathy, believing that would be the first of many such interactions. I don’t know the architecture PhD candidate’s name, but I will never forget him. While dancing at the “Skype interview” bop at Wolfson, wearing dressy tops with yoga pants and trainers, we could not have known that that would soon be the uniform of daily life. On my birthday, I served my new friends Tex-Mex queso dip and Texas chili, while we drank margaritas and sang “Take Me Home, Country Roads” at the top of our lungs in my kitchen, and planned for other such parties after the May Balls. During Lent term it became tradition for some of us to head to Granta a few times a week for Happy Hour, and it was there that some of us met (before the social distancing order) for one last drink, together, overlooking the river.


Mountain View

Thank you, that’s been my time

Though we had to say goodbye under such circumstances, with assignments and dissertation deadlines looming, and while everything seems bleak, I am still grateful for so much. We are healthy. We managed to get our cat back to Dallas on the last American Airlines flight allowing pets into the USA. I have WiFi at home. And, in the year of the pandemic, I am grateful for this: the incredible memories with people from all over the world, who are now dear friends, even friends for life, that Cambridge brought me. And some of you had your first-ever Jell-o shots there in my kitchen, on my birthday. You’re welcome. And thank you.