Spartans Witnessed History and Totality From Two Different Locations

Blanketed under pillows of clouds and an occasional hint of sun, our sixth-graders were stationed, for the first half of the day, at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Stonewall, Texas, which was the birthplace, home and ranch of the 36th President of the United States.

The trip was organized by Middle School science instructor Russ Glenn, who has been in contact with park rangers for more than a year about their plans on the historic day. 

“I wanted our kids to experience this singular moment to the max,” said Glenn.

Once plans were set, the park invited our sixth-grade Spartans to the ranch to view the total solar eclipse “VIP style” parked along the famous airstrip where President Johnson would land during and after his presidency. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists were also on hand during the day and hosted interactive activities and talks with the students.

A St. Stephen’s alum Mary Orms ’19  was also a part of the day’s educational crew. Orms’ is an education and interpretation intern at the LBJ Ranch, a job she landed following graduation from the University of Texas at Austin and the AmeriCorps program. She was thrilled when she learned the ranch would be hosting St. Stephen’s students on the big day.

“This is such a worlds collide moment,” said Orms. “This is a huge project for the park to pull off and we’re so proud and excited that people are here, and that we get to work with NASA. It’s pretty special when two government agencies get to work so hand-in-hand.” 

As the eclipse approached, Glenn warned the crowd with a two-minute countdown and then the moment everyone waited for was here. Our sixth-graders expelled screams as the sky transitioned to darkness and the sun-covered moon peeked through the clouds during totality on eclipse day. It was an impressive moment that was not guaranteed, due to the cloudy skies, once the daytime sky went dark for four minutes.

“We could see the corona,” said Henry Thomas ’30. “It felt heaven-like – like God was with you.”

Thomas, who was decked out in a special black total solar eclipse t-shirt his mom surprised him with Monday morning, got to see the monumental moment alongside his classmates.

Back in Austin on The Hill, Spartans were gearing up for the epic moment of totality as well where an eclipse watch party was in full-swing with special chapel services and a guest speaker. Science Department Chair Frank Mikan led two eclipse-themed chapels for Middle and Upper School students, where he delivered retro presentations and played some of the famous songs from the curated eclipse playlist he compiled for the big day. 

Faculty and staff handed out more than more than 600 Moon Pies and more than 650 student-designed special black t-shirts with custom artwork by Isabella Ratcliff '24 and Nicholas Chen '24. Students – along with a handful of Spartan alumni and parents – started gathering on the lawn outside the Chapel at 12:30 p.m., and at 1:20 p.m. the official watch party began. Science instructors passed out more than 700 pairs of solar glasses, and of course the Mikan playlist blasted on the speakers.

At 1:36 p.m. the sky went dark for one minute and 46 seconds. It was lights out, except for the glow coming from the windows of Becker Library, and the clouds seemed to race under the sun giving us glimpses of the sun and moon. There were lots of screams and howls, and at one point Mikan screamed and pointed up at the sky and exclaimed, "Venus! Venus!"

By 1:38 p.m. the sun was shining again and everyone took their time going back to regularly scheduled programming. It was definitely a historic and memorable day. Mikan is looking forward to the next total eclipse that will move through the United States, predicted in 2044. 

You can see the complete playlist and learn more about the total eclipse here from Frank Mikan in our special “Solar Saturdays” video series and in a recorded Zoom session he held with more than 100 alumni and community members leading up to April 8, 2024.

St. Stephen’s students, families, friends and alumni are always invited to attend regularly scheduled “Starlight Nights” hosted during the school year by Frank Mikan inside the campus observatory. Here are the events schedule for the reminder of the 2023-24 academic year, which always take place two hours after nightfall:
A Drunken Herdsman, A Sad Princess’ Crown, Some Slippery Serpents & the Great Bear
May 4 (students)
May 11 (open to families, friends, alumni)

Rising Death, a True Laboring Hero, the Balance for Good & Evil and a Healer to Help Us All Out
June 8 (open to families, friends, alumni)
June 15 (students only)
Address: 6500 St. Stephen's Dr., Austin, TX 78746
Phone: (512) 327-1213