Letters from the dorm: A birthday under quarantine during Covid-19

  • Social distancing due to the coronavirus can make us feel separated, but as long as we have our family and friends, we're never really alone.
  • One university student celebrates her birthday online with people around the world.
April Xiaoyi Xu |

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My close friends call April 15 “the event of the year” – in the United States: it’s Tax Day (when people have to tell the government how much money they earned to work out how much tax they owe) – and it’s also my birthday. Since my second year at university, I’ve used this day as an excuse to gather my best friends together and have fun.

This time last year, a friend even flew in from Tokyo to join the crew. It was quite a dramatic day: it was bright and sunny when I met my friends in the afternoon. I’d finished classes for the day and had lunch with my criminal law professor. But suddenly it was raining cats and dogs, and we were laughing as we all got soaked.

This year, I turned 24 during the time of Covid-19, alone in my Harvard dorm.

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But I was not really alone. I had more than five hours of classes on Zoom. We also had a French exam online, with “Big Brother”, aka our French professor, watching over us. We had our cameras on throughout the test.

Twenty-three members of my Negotiation Workshop (for which I was assigned to role-play an evil company and had to work through a mock case with four parties) sang Happy Birthday to me. I loved watching them on my laptop screen.

Throughout the day, I also “Zoom partied” with my family and friends in multiple small group sessions.

My family and I got together in spirit, despite being in four different places around the world. My mother blew out the candles on the cake she and my dad had ordered after I made my birthday wishes.

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My college BFFs planned ahead to give me an unconventional gift: first, they made me laugh with a tailor-made online karaoke playlist. Then, while “distracting me” with the e-karaoke, asked me to go downstairs and pick up whatever I saw on the bench outside my dorm building. I thought it might be some sort of joke, but I did what they asked.

My heart was filled with a joy I had missed so much over the past few weeks of self-quarantine. On the bench was a box. I opened it, and inside was two pieces of my favourite dessert, chocolate lava cake. What an amazing surprise.

It is surely a difficult time for everyone, to say the least. Covid-19 has forced us to withdraw from our normal lives: normalcy, which we always took for granted, is such a dream nowadays. But we must be grateful that our loved ones are still here for us. It is so important to stay optimistic.

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