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The Case for 7 More Minutes

Apple picking, trips to Salem, chill air, and freshmen fiending for parties — fall really is in full swing at Harvard.

Now that the luster of the first few weeks has worn off and the panic and exhaustion of midterms season has set in, there is another familiar experience that has reemerged: the plight of the chronically late individual.

Marked by a hasty scramble out the door (following a similarly hasty scramble out of bed), anxious foot-tapping on the shuttle, repeated watch-checking, and the occasional sprint across campus, the chronically late individual never quite seems to have enough time.

I, too, have been known to wake up for 9 a.m. classes at 8:50 or catch the 10:30 shuttle for my 10:30 class. (You will never catch me running, though — I’ve decided to adopt the long-stride-better-late-than-never mentality). It’s never that much of a problem; I usually stroll in and awkwardly find a seat about five minutes late — by all means on time. At least it used to be.

Along with so many once-touted and beloved institutional traditions, Harvard Time is gone.


Boasting its own page on Urban Dictionary, Harvard Time was once defined as “Seven minutes later than real time. A comment on how classes at Harvard start 7 minutes after they are listed (example: at 10:07 instead of at 10:00) to allow time for students who must cross the campus from one class to another.”

The beginning of the end of Harvard Time was marked by an institutional scheduling change to 75-minute class blocks which allotted 15 minutes of passing time between all classes, obviating the need for the deeply ingrained seven-minute delay that had come to define every scheduled event on campus.

While professors tried to follow the new schedule immediately, it seems the change was less sudden in the hearts and minds of Harvard students. The real death of the grace period can probably be traced to the same thing that changed many aspects of normalcy for good: the Covid-19 pandemic. Rolling out of bed and logging into a Zoom call made punctuality a lot easier. In the 2-D classroom, there was hardly a need to wait for people to trickle in. And, with the help of the institutional memory gaps that erased many already-fading campus traditions, this new, Harvard-time-less world has stuck.

Professors and TFs alike tend to start right on the dot and students usually arrive moments before — most students, anyway. There remains the question of the chronically late. Sure, the problem faced by these select tardy people may easily be remedied by rushing out the door 10 minutes sooner. And perhaps this should be a lesson in punctuality. But I’d prefer to think of it as one piece of Harvard that most of us never got to experience.

Maybe the fact that so many of us didn’t have the opportunity to be on time seven minutes late is precisely what makes it sound so appealing. Harvard is stressful enough without the unbridled anxiety that accompanies sleeping through an alarm. Beyond the missed shuttle or the awkward silence as you shuffle into a seat, we tend to immediately panic over the smallest things. In this light, a bit of good-natured flexibility in what so often feels like a rigid system is just the reprieve we need. And, after all, we have the rest of our lives to be punctual.

Harvard culture fosters an unattainable need to be perfect all of the time. It’s exhausting. It’s restrictive. And, paradoxically, it keeps us from improving by constructing and reifying environments that are inhospitable to the growth that comes from making mistakes. The removal of Harvard Time makes this manifest — what little institutional forgiveness we’ve had for small mishaps continue to fall away.

Reinstating Harvard Time, however, is not the answer. In fact, it would be contrary to my whole point: that beyond any one idiosyncratic tradition, sometimes we just need to be a little less strict. We can and should resist the inexorable pull to systematize everything. It is time to consciously give ourselves the grace of 7 minutes before letting the gravity of a situation set in.

Be kind to yourself and others. Know that very few things are worth breaking into a sprint for. Take your time. And remember: A grace period is a wonderful remedy to more than the needs of the chronically late individual — even if some of us should also consider waking up just a little earlier.

Sidnee N. Klein ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Currier House.