Getting down by looking up

(Edmonton) While Alumni Weekend is certainly about celebrating the University of Alberta’s past, it also celebrates its future. With with more than 50 per cent of grads under the age of 40 and thousands of students eager to join the club, this year’s new Stargazer event Sept 23 aimed to help the Alumni Association celebrate in style.

“There is sometimes a perception that alumni events are exclusive to our older alumni,” said Alumni Association executive director Sean Price. “We’re trying to turn that perception around by broadening offerings to younger grads as well as students. And what better way to start than by celebrating in a social atmosphere?”

Hosted at the U of A’s new $465-million Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science—which held its grand opening event earlier in the day—the space-age-themed Stargazer offered students and young alumni an opportunity to connect.

“When you graduate, all of a sudden you have to fill in the void where your university connections used to be,” said Don Iveson, former director of the Students’ Union’s advocacy department and current Edmonton City councillor. “Any opportunities for recent grads to reconnect and interact in ways that benefit the university or the community are great. I think people need bite-sized opportunities to do that and this is a great example.”

Morgan Jacko, a first-year science student with aspirations to obtain a master’s degree in astrophysics, agreed from a student standpoint. “On a scale of one to 10, these events are a 20 when it comes to giving students an opportunity to network.”

But Stargazer was more than just a networking event; it was an unforgettable party.

Department of Physics professor Sharon Morsink’s tours of the building’s space observatory allowed curious attendees the chance to truly stargaze. Guests peered into the September night sky through the facility’s powerful telescopes, which revealed astronomical wonders including two suns orbiting each other more than 400 light years away.

Downstairs, partygoers took in the jaw-dropping performances of Firefly Theatre, which delighted with aerial acrobatics, suspended overhead from silks and a hoop in the voluminous atrium space. Astronomically inspired films by alumna artist Lindsay McIntyre projected onto screens throughout the room enhanced the ambience, while DJ Kwake, a familiar face on Edmonton’s music scene, filled the air with a selection of dance beats.

And outside, the “spaciest” part of the Stargazer, the evening’s pièce de résistance: rocket launches.

Assisted by students from the Institute of Space Science, Exploration and Technology, guests lined up at the launch pad like kids eager to play with a shiny new toy. For $10—which was donated to the ISSET student group—guests lit the fuse of their very own glow-in-the-dark rocket, sending it zipping six stories into the air above.

“The lights, the music, all of the cool opportunities—it’s just been inspiring,” said second-year student, Brittany Suh.

“It’s wonderful. I hope there are more events like this in the future,” adds Jacko.

Alumni Weekend continues with various faculty events, campus tours, entertainment in the Big Top Tuck Shop, and the Alumni Dinner & Dance. For more information, click here.