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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

Total eclipse of Vermont: Why the college should excuse students on April 8

Sometimes, the planets and the stars do align. 

On Monday, April 8, Vermont will be in the path of totality for a solar eclipse. For a small state like ours, this is a once-in-a-generation occurrence. According to Observatory Specialist Dr. Catherine Miller, Vermont has not been in this situation since 1932 — and the path of totality won’t return to Vermont until 2079. Even outside of our state, The New York Times reports that “it will be about 21 years” — or around the lifetime thus far of a Middlebury College student — “before another total solar eclipse of this magnitude returns to the contiguous United States.” We can’t let this unique chance pass us by.

In order to maximize our collective experience of this rare event, the college should cancel afternoon classes on April 8.

Canceling class, although rare, is not unprecedented. For instance, the college routinely cancels a day of classes for its annual spring symposium, showing that it is willing to make exceptions to the academic schedule for educational benefits. But what about the benefits of wonder? Awe? A school that prides itself on its environmental emphasis ought to honor its geographic serendipity by allowing students to benefit from the eclipse. 

This isn’t coming from someone who is keen to miss class — in my four years at Middlebury, I can count on one hand the number of times I haven’t made it to the classroom, and each time involved a significant health or personal crisis. I am aware, too, that some professors may resist the idea of canceling class on principle. Although rescheduling class is an excellent option for seminars, it is not a perfect solution for all class sizes.

With this in mind, I suggest that professors offer an additional excused absence, applicable only on April 8. This way, classes can be held without restriction, but students will not be penalized for wanting to experience this remarkable event. Miller agreed, writing, “I think that students should be excused from classes during the partial and total phases of the solar eclipse. For many, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that should not be missed.”

If the word “eclipse” has you humming Bonnie Tyler more than charting planets, here’s the short version: Between 3:25 and 3:31 p.m. on an otherwise bright spring afternoon, the sky will suddenly grow dark. Looking up through special eclipse-viewing glasses, viewers will see the dark silhouette of the moon surrounded by a glaring circle of the sun. In all seriousness, don’t pull a Trump — “Never look directly at the Sun,” Miller urged. Luckily, the college will have glasses to provide to the campus community.

In an email to The Campus, Frank Winkler Professor of Astrophysics Eilat Glikman shed some light on the science behind the phenomenon.

“If the situation is: Sun – moon – Earth, then from the perspective of Earth, the moon blocks out the Sun, causing it to get dark during the day for up to 4 minutes. This is because when the moon blocks out the sun, it is casting a large shadow on a portion of the Earth. Solar eclipses only happen during the day when it is a new moon,” Glikman wrote. “Since the shadow doesn’t cover the entire Earth, only certain locations on Earth get to experience the eclipse. We in Vermont are in the ‘path of totality,’ which is the part of the earth that can see the total eclipse.”

Given that Middlebury hugs the border of the zone of totality, students on campus will experience a shorter window of darkness than Vermonters farther north in places like Burlington or Montpelier. 

“Locations within the path of totality will experience a total solar eclipse, whereas locations outside the path of totality will, at most, experience a partial solar eclipse, meaning only part of the Sun will get blocked,” Miller explained. 

True devotees will want to make the trek outside of Middlebury to intensify their experience. (Looking for a soundtrack to your eclipse commute? Try my personalized eclipse playlist).

That doesn’t mean that the town of Middlebury can’t figure into your eclipse plans, however.

Local businesses like The Vermont Bookshop already have special books out on display, and Vermont’s Own Gifts & Goods’ sidewalk sign has been advertising eclipse glasses for weeks now. Even the state’s office website features a countdown. Vermont is particularly eager for the rush of eclipse chasers after last summer’s extreme rainfall affected tourism. In this way, purchasing glasses from a local business or buying food at an eclipse festival is also economically motivated.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for like eight years,” said Adayliah Ley ’24, who glimpsed a partial eclipse in 2017. As early as 2022, she contacted President Laurie Patton about the possibility of rearranging spring break to include the event, but received a negative response from Associate Provost for Planning LeRoy Graham. Now, Ley hopes to convince her professor that the class should travel northward for the event. 

Middlebury students are encouraged to envision themselves in the world, meaning that they may travel far and wide upon graduation, moving towards or away from the sight of the next total eclipse. 

“For some people, [this] might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” Ley said.  

Like Ley, most of this year’s seniors graduated high school in 2020, meaning that they are well accustomed to missed opportunities. Let’s not add another to their list.

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You don’t have to take my word for it. In an email to The Campus, Schumann Distinguished Scholar Bill McKibben wrote, “We, rightly, take the time to celebrate various religious occasions on campus; every once in a great while a great epochal moment from our pagan life appears, and I for one would not miss the chance to howl at this darkening of the sun. The great class of the universe meets daily, but we miss most of its lessons; only occasionally does it absolutely demand our attention.”

How right he is. Don’t let one class eclipse the eclipse. 


Acadia Klepeis

Acadia Klepeis ’24 (she/her) is an Arts & Culture Editor. 

She is an English major and a French and Francophone Studies minor. Last year, Cadi studied literature in Paris and in Oxford through Middlebury’s school abroad programs. She spent this past summer working as a communications intern for the Vermont Arts Council. Previously, she completed internships with Tuttle Publishing, Theatre in Paris, and Town Hall Theater. Cadi is also on the board for Middlebury College Musical Theatre.


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