Aug. 22, 2017
I doubt if the effect of witnessing a total eclipse ever quite passes away. The impression is singularly vivid and quieting for days, and can never be wholly lost. A startling nearness to the gigantic forces of nature and their inconceivable operation seems to have been established. Personalities and towns and cities, and hates and jealousies, and even mundane hopes, grow very small and very far away. — Mabel Loomis Todd, Emily Dickinson's editor and wife of David Peck Todd, astronomer
Welcome home to staff, students and faculty from your far-flung adventures this summer, and an especially warm welcome to your new home to the 8,000 members of our new class. It is a singularly talented and diverse class, from 37 countries, 46 states, and 91 Indiana counties.
How magical to begin classes on a day when our eyes were all drawn heavenward by the beauty and strangeness of a near-total eclipse of the sun. The foresight of the wonderful IU astronomer Caty Pilachowski and Teddie Phillipson-Mower of the Office of Science Outreach, who thought last spring to prepare by asking the campus to stock up on viewers, coupled with the imagination and creativity of IU English professor Ed Comentale and the Arts & Humanities Council, who pulled together the brilliant CelestFest in the Conrad Prebys Amphitheater, made the day both awe-inspiring and an exercise in community. Thanks to all of our faculty, staff, and students-and to the cosmos-for this lovely return to campus.
Maria Mitchell, America’s first female astronomer, had a particularly vivid description of the total eclipse of 1869, one that catches the truth that even our experience of the physical world varies by vision and personal history:
There were some seconds of breathless suspense, and then the inky blackness appeared on the burning limb of the sun…No one person can give an account of this eclipse, but the speciality of each is the bit of mosaic which he contributes to the whole.
The accident of our opening-day eclipse allows us to celebrate the gifts of our diverse community, and to recognize each piece of the IU mosaic as it contributes to the beautiful whole. Science and art unite to expand the way we think about and experience a stunning natural phenomenon. Students from every inhabited continent exchange viewers and stare at the sky together. We are united in awe for a few fleeting minutes as the leaves cast crescent shadows on the bricks by Sample Gates.
As we enter the semester with the dark and ugly events of Charlottesville so recently in mind, I appreciate the opportunity we have all had to experience, in all our "speciality," the profound grace of these moments of generosity and community. May we all work with kindness and diligence to create such moments of community throughout the year.
Read President McRobbie's welcome message and statement from IU on Charlottesville.