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“Stars, I have seen them fall, but when they drop & die”

— Many of you around the world will have seen (or at least tried to see) the Leonid meteor shower last month, which was one of the most dramatic in many years. The Leonids visit us every year around November 17th, along with the Perseids (around August 12th), the Orionids (around October 21st), and the Geminids (around December 13th). Meteor showers are ideal things to work into the annual cycle of your residential college, and they can even be listed on your college calendar at the beginning of the year. Have one of the fellows of your college host a late-night viewing evening (with food of course!) at some moderately dark location as close to the college as possible. Not only can this be an enjoyable and unusual social event, it is a wonderful educational opportunity that can be developed not only in scientific but also in historical and literary directions. For an example, see my notice and use of the 1998 Leonids in the Strong College newsletter and in the poem-of-the-week that appeared along with the announcement of their impending arrival.

Did it work? Sure did. This was a spontaneous effusion that a student posted to the college discussion group afterwards:

Back many moons ago, ok, last year, I remember before the school year started when I was still giddy about the prospect of the new adventure that college would be. I remember a talk to a group once (I don’t recall what group it was) and the theme was “The Invisible University.” We all know what the visible university consists of: classes, McIver statue, the Chancellor, the CAF, sporting events, etc. I was never 100% sure what the invisible university was until early this morning about 2:30 a.m.

I was standing in the middle of a field, dew on my shoes, the cold beginning to nip at my hands and feet. Up in the sky, nature was putting on a show for those of us that were still out there. C.J., Sherrill, Brad, Adam, Tammy, Dr. Bob and myself were all that remained of our expedition. I said to myself, “Self, (I always refer to myself as self) I think that this is what that talk was about.” It was the sort of magical time that you never see in view books and videos, although I wish people could see it.

In my room later that morning, I started thinking to myself that there were other members of the invisible university, things I might not have thought of before. Discussing Brusilov with Adam in the Blue Lemur, “bad ass” dissertations by Greg and Jay, wrestling reminiscences with Sherrill, late nights in Dr. Bob’s office, Tea in general, etc., etc., etc. All the things that we do in Strong College that aren’t part of the curriculum, or the Master Plan, are part of the Invisible University.

I know that you all have noticed these things before, but, have you ever really realized their importance? How these simple events enhance what college is tenfold? It’s a shame that it took a beautiful meteor shower to bring that fact to my attention. But, then again, it was a heck of a show.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2014