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Fall 2020

Mckenzie Parkins

Photo: Kyle Walcott

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Mckenzie Parkins

Current Student | Education, Policy, and Management Program | Atlanta

Every time I look at my 2020 vision board, I roll my eyes, laugh, and think “what a joke.” Smack in the center of my board are big letters spelling HARVARD and a trail of dots underneath leading me to Massachusetts. My plan was simple: apply, get accepted, have the best year in Cambridge, and be set up for my next steps in life; however, 2020 had other plans.

Upon acceptance, I was excited as anyone else and instantly went into planning mode for my summer transition and life in the fall. I started connecting with my colleagues and sought out housing. How lucky I thought I was when I secured housing with a family friend and cut my costs down by thousands. I researched hangout spots, knew what restaurants I wanted to try, and talked to alumni about the best gear to help me endure a Boston winter. (Thank God I didn’t buy anything!)

As quickly as I began to solidify my plans, things began to change. Once the welcome events were canceled and current students were asked to vacate the school, I realized my plans and what I imagined my HGSE experience to be like would radically change. I said goodbye to walking though Gutman Library, tailgating for the Harvard v. Yale football game, and the thoughts of giving tours to my sisters or my aunt who already had plans to visit and explore the campus. I began to question if I would receive everything I wished for when I made my vision board. I worried myself into early gray hairs and questioned, “Will I get the world-renowned Harvard education and experience if Harvard opts to move online?”

“It’s exhausting. I’m exhausted. I feel like a machine having to recalibrate to stay on track every time something new pops up.”

Waiting for fall plans to officially be announced led to the most intense anxiety and loom of uncertainty I’ve ever experienced. March turned to April, which turned into May, then into June and still — I knew nothing. It felt like I was frozen. Things were happening, people were moving, the world was changing, but I had to remain still … and wait.

Finally hearing that the program would be completely virtual, I had a small sense of relief and thought I could go back into planning mode and reimagine my hgse experience. But, with so many unknowns and nowhere to get solid answers, I remained still. There is no one to ask if paying full tuition without the in-person experience is worth the value. I have no way of knowing the quality of classes, or the strain of a year’s worth of “Zoom-ing” on my body. Who can I ask if meaningful and lasting relationships could solely be made virtually? No one. We would be the first.

One month after hearing the decision, I think I’m still reimagining. What do I want out of my HGSE experience? What will it look like for me? It’s hard to ground myself and plant my feet in an answer, when it feels like the ground is still being built. I’m making decisions on leaps of faith and hope, and it’s scary.

Every decision I have to make right now feels like opening a war field in my brain. I’ll have a question, nowhere to get an answer, so both sides battle it out, and at the end of it all, I still have no answer.

“Should I move to Boston?” “Will proximity to the campus lead to more opportunities or possible in-person meetups?” “Most of the jobs posted on the Hub are in Boston.” “Plenty of people are still making the move.” “But wait, it’s a global pandemic. Moving isn’t safe.”

“Why risk being quarantined in a city without your family?” “Full time or part time?” “Dive in heads first, go all-in, and be a full-time online Ed.M. student. Why not? That was the original plan and you can make the most out of this!” “But I could also be a part-time student, continue to have income, and at least hope for the possibility of a real graduation in 2022.”

It’s exhausting.

I’m exhausted.

I feel like a machine having to recalibrate to stay on track every time something new pops up.

I would love to say I have a final decision, but I don’t. I’m practicing grace and adding the word flexibility to my vision board. As I continue to reimagine, I know I’ll keep the promise to myself to be a Harvard graduate student. Whether full time or part time, in Boston or not, I’ll get the degree. It’s my hope that even remotely, I’ll have a great year, and I’ll be set up for my next steps in life as I initially planned.

Mckenzie Parkins served as a special educator, youth advocate, and community organizer in New Orleans for five years and found joy in empowering youth to use their voice through civic engagement. She decided to stay in Georgia after all and attend the Ed School as a full-time student. She plans to study in Atlanta until December, and then move to the DMV area in January to meet and study with her newborn nephew.