Total Eclipse of an Evolving World

Students watch the eclipse from the roof of the Student Union. (Source Office of Student Involvement)

In the usually quiet supermarket, a line crowded the entrance. Excitement filled the air as people fidgeted anxiously, desperate for a spot. From a kiosk in the center, a man held a massive box brimming with the most coveted cardboard on the market: solar eclipse glasses.

Occurring when the moon briefly covers the sun, the last total solar eclipse cut across the northern part of the U.S. This year, the Kansas City area provided a prime vantage point for the rare event. People from across the country traveled to witness it, work places threw solar eclipse parties and some lucky UMKC students got out of class.

Campbell Richmond, a senior and English major, liked that his professor gave students the choice to take an excused absence.

“I don’t believe school should be the only thing you learn from,” Richmond said. “This kind of thing doesn’t happen very often.”

He’s right. The U.S. saw its last total solar eclipse in 1979. But have solar eclipses always been such a prevalent event to the American public?

Professor Michael Pritchett, an associate professor for the English department, doesn’t think so.

“I hope everyone enjoyed the eclipse,” he joked at the beginning of class. “After all, it did practically get turned into the royal wedding.”

Pritchett elaborated on his memories from the 1979 eclipse, which he called a “non-event.”

“I was in high school, and we did not talk about it, prepare for it, or gather to watch it,” he reflected. “I walked out on our back porch and viewed it through a pair of cheap sunglasses for about a minute.”

Richmond explained one possible reason for this contrast.

“Communication through social media has become a lot easier. It would have been harder to broadcast something like this back then,” he said.

Richmond also pointed out that more scientific knowledge about a way to safely view the eclipse likely played a role. However, that didn’t stop one of his friends from “staring at the sun for a bit too long.”

Despite many changes, Pritchett highlighted the similarities between the world of today and the one that saw the last total solar eclipse.

Elaborating on his earlier comment, Prichett said, “I think royalty used to fill a very big place in our lives, like a sun and moon, and we miss that time of clear order.”

In a country that struggles to find common ground, Pritchett seemed to take comfort in how the nation responded.

“It’s a healthy sign when people are willing to drop everything, on a Monday, for an event that isn’t going to give them an edge over anybody else or increase their earning potential.”

Whether students got out of class or acquired the proper eyewear, UMKC can say it took part in this act of nationwide togetherness.

Scientists project the next solar eclipse will occur in 2024. While it’s impossible to know exactly how the world will have changed by then, as Frank Reynolds said in his 1979 broadcast of the eclipse, “May the shadow of the moon fall on a world at peace.”

With any luck, the nation will be able to once again join together and witness the event. However, one thing can be said with certainty: be sure to get in line early for those glasses.

 

jlfpw4@mail.umkc.edu

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