Universe transfers (and other people too)

I recently read about NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope. It was launched last December, in a fixed orbit somewhere beyond our moon, and has the unique property of being infrared-capable, which its predecessor, Hubble, didn’t, either. This infrared ability, along with its celestial position, is of interest to astronomers and astronomers because exoplanets — those outside our solar system — are darker than the stars around them except for the infrared spectrum, which penetrates poorly into Earth’s atmosphere. And finding exoplanets increases our chances of finding habitable planets, which are starting to look like something we might need sooner rather than later.

But what caught my eye was the story behind the telescope and its twisting four-decade-long path to its home. The idea for this telescope emerged in 1996 when a couple of Swiss astronomers confirmed the existence of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star. NASA realized its importance and began planning for the James Webb project with an initial launch date in 2007. By 2010, they were not only 3 years late, but over budgeted by 10 times. The same thing happened with 2015, then 2017, then Covid-19 stopped everything. And at every delay, someone was there to question the usefulness of the project or to insist that it wouldn’t work as planned.

This is important to me because, as a transfer student to Stanford, I am aware of delays and long and drawn-out processes. I got my first college credits in 2009 through the credit-by-exam program I studied sitting on an inter-patrol ammunition box on my first deployment with the Navy. I started online classes in 2014, and was a student enrolled in four schools across the country, and will finally be awarded my BA in the fall of 2022. My fellow transferees have similar stories. Some began their studies half a decade ago while in prison. In their forties, parents are already single; After the music functions. after retirement from the army; Or after a decade of dancing at the Royal Ballet, etc. with just about any life change you can imagine.

This fall, we’ve got a few diversions, each with their own story. And if you ask me, they wouldn’t be able to come at a time of most need. Because last July, as James Webb was broadcasting his first images of dazzling galaxy clusters and deep purple nebulae, a comet the size of Mount Everest crossed Earth’s orbit. The comet that killed the dinosaurs was just one of Mount Everest. Rainforest fires are burning, the heartbeat of the Earth’s ocean wanes, and the battle for “No More Names” continues, for the education and empowerment of every citizen, for the freedom of every human being of minds, bodies and love.

I sometimes wonder if it seems like these struggles have always been or always will be. That we are always one catastrophe or one madman far from the complete extinction or decline of humanity. Maybe that’s because we are. That’s why the world will always need people who want to be different, to fight for what they love, to stand in the gate, the barrier, or the only watchtower on the mountain, armed with the sword and shield unique to them, to hold the rainbow at the other end of a storm long.

Of course, as a transfer student, it will not be easy. You might stare at screens of hieroglyphic-looking symbols, wondering if you’ll ever understand them, or cross quads alone on a cold, rainy night, wondering if you belong — to Stanford or to the world. Unfortunately, I have no answer to these questions other than “be patient” and “maybe nobody does.”

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote: “There may be more beautiful times, but this is ours.” And perhaps, from a cosmological perspective, we are just the glitches of the void, specks of moving particles on a speck of rock, fumes at the capillary ends of a world covered in water. The singularity probably collapsed 14 billion years ago by chance. Hydrogen gathered in gravitational pools by chance, generations of stars lived, died, and blew their raw materials into space by accident; Perhaps lightning caused a pop in ammonia pools, or amino acids formed near thermal vents under the ocean, from which dolphins, chimpanzees, butterflies and humans arose, all by accident. But with this opportunity, we are here.

So thank you for being here, for living in these times, for taking the chance of having something to fight for. Of course, this is more than just Stanford transfers. Thank you to every parent who loves their child, to everyone who plays their inner child in the rain to the sound of thunder, to anyone who follows a purpose they can’t quite describe means they’re not sure they have. The poet Elaine Bass wrote, “If you can do a good thing, the ocean doesn’t care. But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth, the earth fell, very slightly, toward the apple too.”

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