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Running Up That Hill to the McCormick Observatory

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UVA chapter.

My friends and I are primarily fourth years who met our first week of first year. Like the waxing and waning of the moon, we’ve seen each other go through all of our college phases—the times when we were enthusiastic first years, grinding second years, ambivalent-about-our-future third years, and now mellowed fourth years. Unintentionally, we’ve done most of the 123 bucket list already. Because of that, sometimes we settle into a state of complacency, thinking we’ve seen what four years of Charlottesville has to offer. And while it’s satisfying to see a column of checklists, these past years have taught me that life is about a combination of premeditated goals as well as moments of random spontaneity. 

With the mid-Autumn festival, a celebration of the full moon, just around the corner, my friends and I hike up to the McCormick Observatory. It’s nestled on a hill down McCormick road just a little bit behind the first year dorms. The route is dimly lit with trees all around. And peaking through the leaves, sounds of laughter reverberates, reminding you of the college town underneath. In the dark, there is no visible outline of the observatory. It’s a shapeless end goal, which seems so representative of life post-grad. I have no real, defined trajectory of where I’m heading towards—no job or internship lined up. But with my friends hand-in-hand, we’re pulling each other towards the same destination. Behind us, cars shine their headlights and we can hear the gravel churn underneath the wheels.

“Is this where Hansel and Gretel died?” my friend asks as we stand in front of a doorless entry way. Despite its ominous ambience, we proceed forward. To the right, images of galaxies are on display, offering just a sliver of the unknown. It’s a fraction of the endless possibilities of what exists, like a sneak peek of our potential futures. But it is in the left chamber where one can stand in a room that is approximately 138-years-old and actually peer through a telescope. To do so, we mount a wooden frame with a ladder and a bench at the top. Squinting through the viewfinder, there’s Saturn with its four moons visible by a tool able to magnify by a factor of 17,000. Something that once seemed so distant and far fetched has now taken form, which would not have otherwise been possible if not for a friend sending a flier of the event on a whim. During these unplanned moments, life feels less like a looming uncertainty and more of just what it truly is—a collection of memories. Instead of worrying about the next steps, I’m leaving UVA understanding that haze and obscurity are not necessarily indicators of unobtainable wishes. They’re just opportunities to jump at the next life experience that helps find, magnify, and put the image in focus for the briefest of moments. To the other fourth years, before you leave, I hope you finish your own bucket list and do the unexpected events that anchor you in this transitionary phase.

Hi, y'all! I'm Julia and am from Texas! I'm a third year studying biology and East Asian studies for pre-dental. If I'm not on YouTube, you can find me active on Yelp or Netflix. Aside from writing and reading, I enjoy taking photos. Thank you for reading my pieces!