Alejandro Lozano: Resilient Leaders: Class of 2020, The Historical Harvard Generation

Alejandro Lozano is a Mid-Career Master in Public Administration student, Vice President of International Student Affairs, KSSG and member of the Center for Public Leadership Development Cohort 2020 at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.  LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/alejandrolozanoboris

 

Oprime aqui para leer el articulo en Español.

 

by Alejandro Lozano

 

"The world needs you"

- Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky

 

On March 10, 2020, my classmates and I received an email from Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow, announcing that due to COVID-19 classes would move to virtual instruction.

In a matter of hours, everything in our lives changed.

I never thought that March 10 would be my last day as a student at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), the last day that I would see professors, classmates and friends.

That everyday routine of walking along Memorial Dr., stopping at Black Sheep Bagel Cafe or Peet´s for a coffee, and entering HKS—with the same excitement as the first day—was over.  Likewise, that feeling of gratitude and pride in entering a classroom, placing your name tag on your seat, writing down memorable phrases from teachers, learning from the discussions with peers, and simply trying to stop time to absorb as much information as possible also came to a screeching halt. There were no more encounters with classmates between class breaks in the cafeteria, JFK Jr. Forum or any of the multiple HKS mazes (which had taken us a long time to memorize). Conferences, workshops and in-person office hours with professors also ended.

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Activities at HKS and Thanksgiving Lunch at Dunster House

 

Ten days later, President Bacow announced the cancellation of the 369th Harvard commencement ceremony. I felt that my experience at Harvard was abruptly over. A mixture of anger, hopelessness, anxiety and frustration surfaced, along with some selfish questions. Why did this happen precisely during my year at Harvard? Why did this have to break the natural process of ending this great experience with my friends, colleagues and teachers? So many times, I had visualized my commencement, I even rented the gown and, hood and cap two days before the cancellation email. Why was this situation stealing my dream of attending commencement with my wife, kids, parents and classmates, as hundreds of Harvard generations before us have done?

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Harvard and HKS during COVID-19

 

In a few days, our lives changed and so did our priorities; the health and mental wellness of family, friends and ourselves became our main concern. Furthermore, the messages from our HKS WhatsApp groups changed from academic conversations and jokes to saying goodbye. We members of the Kennedy School Student Government immediately had to move from carrying out the semester’s planned activities to addressing hundreds of concerns regarding housing and lease situations, travel restrictions, health insurance, visas and doubts that new admits were facing, among many other present and future uncertainties.

When the partial lockdown and social distancing were made mandatory, my wife, Sandra, my four- and two-year-old sons, Pablo and Diego, and I, had to reorganize our daily life routine inside our apartment, as did many of my classmates (and the entire world). On one hand, we embraced our parental duties in isolation juggling hundreds of activities for our children, from coloring, solving puzzles, dressing them as Hulk, Spiderman, Capitan America, Catboy, Gekko, Buzz Lightyear and Woody, to cooking, bathing and reading the same Three Little Pigs' story over and over, until we started to make up new ones. On the other hand, I tried to take all my online classes, thinking I could hide from my sons but failing miserably, and just hoping they would stop jumping on top of me while loudly singing "the Lion King," as I was trying to pay attention in class and adapt to Zoom learning. This quickly became the new normal.

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Daily life routine inside our apartment and taking my online classes with my kids.

 

This was part of my individual journey, but I was very much aware of so many journeys around me. There were moments to be hopeful as we learned stories about the real heroes, doctors, nurses and care providers, on the front-line during this COVID-19 pandemic, saving lives. We realized that we were dealing with our own individual struggles, we should also rise to the challenge—to be there for others. Today, we are valuing solidarity over individualism. We are learning the importance of the simple things in life that we sometimes take for granted, like spending time with our family or friends, and the real value of a personal conversations.

It is thanks to the resilience and leadership of the Harvard community that I understood that my experience at Harvard was not over. Rather, it was about the relevance of the academic and personal knowledge gained and how I would use it. This was the moment to seize for action. I started seeing this crisis as an opportunity to grow, learn, and overcome it in a much stronger, positive and grateful way.

I want to give thanks to my wife, Sandra, for leading us through this challenging time with a positive outlook, love and courage. This crisis allowed me to admire her even more.

I am grateful to my HKS friends, for being a family in a foreign country, for your friendship, your solidarity and support.

I want to give thanks to all the children of my classmates, our own heroes, because, even those little ones, with their marvelous innocence not really knowing what was happening, taught us to be happier, to enjoy more, be more present, take things less seriously and personally; that life goes fast and that later might be too late.

I want to express my admiration to all the students who are mothers for being a source of inspiration. I have utmost respect for your sacrifice, dedication and love. You managed to support and inspire your children and all of us, and at the same time, you stood out in the best university in the world, as a student. You once again prove the strong will power and resilience that women and mothers possess.

I want to thank the partners of all Harvard students for your strength, patience and unconditional support. Even though the diploma we will receive will have our names, you deserve it more for making this possible.

I also wish to thank all international students who are far from their homes and relatives, in a different country. You courageously faced this unprecedent crisis and adapted rapidly to the constant academic, health and social changes. Yet another example of adaptive leadership.

I want to give thanks to my colleagues from the Kennedy School Student Government, and our president, Charlene, for your commitment, teamwork, empathy, and for stepping up in such unprecedent and complicated times.

Many thanks to Harvard and HKS administration, and professors for your rapid response and support by offering different webinars, workshops, and for making your best effort to adapt and maintain the highest academic quality. As students, we acknowledge that this abrupt change was not easy for you and we appreciate it.

COVID-19 has created new types of leaders the resilient leaders in several corners of the world. I am convinced that in every member of my Harvard family, there is a leader with a positive mindset, who saw this crisis as a learning opportunity and has developed a stronger capacity not only to manage but also to build in adversity with determination and solidarity. All of them are resilient leaders.

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Today, the world requires resilient leaders with the capacities and skills to face the post-COVID-19 era and future crises to come. We have witnessed, in many nations, how improvised leaders does not solve the problems, they aggravate them.

We had the honor to attend Harvard when the COVID-19 shook the world and our lives. We belong to the class of 2020, an historical Harvard generation that will always be remembered.  The coronavirus was, in many ways, a fundamental aspect of the learning path. It is time to apply our newly acquired knowledge—academic and personal—and put it to the service of our communities. 

Today, my family and I are back in Mexico, between final exams and mini-superheroes running around the house. I know that my classmates and I shall meet again to celebrate our commencement and friendship, meanwhile it fills me with pride that here in my state, San Luis Potosí, I can give my Harvard diploma to my family.

It was almost a year ago, that many of us received our acceptance letter and video from Harvard, congratulating us on being part of the class of 2020: "the world needs committed individuals, who are passionate about advocating for basic rights, equality of opportunity and effective governance for everyone. And the world needs principled and effective public leaders and policymakers to confront critical problems…"

That time has come. Our duty to service is calling louder than ever. The world demands it!

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John F. Kennedy Harvard dorm