For many of us, the month of August signals new beginnings, including the start of a new school year, new friendships and new experiences. For many of you, it also signals the start of an exciting new adventure. This week, you will begin your journey to Loyola Marymount University (LMU) as the incoming class of 2021. You will leave family and old friends behind, meet a new collective of interesting people from all over the globe and begin a journey that will shape who you become in this world.
Fifteen years ago this week, I started my own journey to LMU in quite the same way: very eager – and perhaps a bit nervous – to start down the path toward the rest of my life.
As a double alumna and current staff member at LMU, it is safe to say I’ve learned a lot from this amazing university. One of the most important lessons has been to always say yes when new opportunities cross your path… even if they may seem outside of your comfort zone. One such recently brought me to Maupin, Ore. to assist with a VIP eclipse viewing campout at the breathtakingly beautiful Imperial Stock Ranch. The only privately held ranch in Oregon whose headquarters is also a National Historic District, this leader in producing sustainable all-natural products was the perfect place to experience one of the most spectacular natural phenomena I have ever had the pleasure to witness. Its location on a beautiful eastern Oregon plateau allowed us views of Mount Jefferson and Mount Hood in Oregon, Mount Adams and Mount Rainier in Washington and – on an extremely clear day – Mount Baker, which sits close the United States/Canada border. Most importantly, the ranch offered us a completely unobstructed view of the total solar eclipse that occurred on Monday morning.
Guests arrived from around the world on Sunday afternoon and were treated to a traditional cowboy dinner. The evening continued with stargazing opportunities with a group of local citizen scientists and their incredible high-powered telescopes, as well as a talk from Adam Steltzner, a leader on the NASA team that developed the landing system that put the Curiosity Rover on Mars. I can honestly say that I have never seen stars like those I’ve observed the past few nights in the Oregon desert.
Most campers were up with the sun Monday morning in high anticipation of this stellar event. Very few people at our site had ever experienced a total solar eclipse before, so we were buzzing with guesses on what the experience that day would be like. We grabbed our viewing glasses at 9:07:23 a.m. on the dot to see the moon take the first “bite” out of the sun. With specially filtered telescopes still in place, we also had the chance to see the sun up close and personal, sunspots and all. The moon moved at an achingly slow pace, taking what seemed like forever to black out the sun. Meanwhile, the sky dimmed and the temperature dropped drastically. Due to our location at the outer edge of the path of totality, we kept an eye on Mount Hood, which was far enough out of the path that it remained illuminated as the ground surrounding us darkened. Roughly an hour later, at 10:21:14 a.m., we entered totality. I’ve viewed professional photos of the eclipse since and all I can say is nothing compares to the in-person sight of the blotted-out sun in the sky. I understand now why ancient peoples may have thought the world was ending. There is something both awe-inspiring and eerie that washes over you in the moments just before totality sets in. The colors faded in a way that far surpassed any sunrise or sunset I have ever experienced, which is say a lot considering at a place like LMU, there’s no shortage of sunsets to take your breath away.
But in just one minute, it was over.
The light returned, the air warmed and we all were different people than we were when the world went dark. Those who started as complete strangers were now a bonded community of campers with an extraordinary shared experience.
You too are about to embark on an extraordinary shared experience with a group of strangers from around the world. I hope you will take in every minute of it and enjoy it for the awe-inspiring journey that it will no doubt be. You will grow and change and find an inseparable community with individuals you may not have known existed even a week ago. Learn to enthusiastically say yes to the opportunities that will present themselves to you over the next four years. In the blink of an eye, you’ll be ready for commencement.
Ashley Wilson is a LMU alumni and the manager of LMU’s pre-college program, Summer Programs.