WAKEFIELD, Neb. | Within seconds of putting on their special glasses, Tara Dolen's second-graders summed up Monday's solar eclipse in a few short syllables, all punctuated with several exclamation points.
"I can see it!!!"
And finally, "That is awesome!!!"
Such was the excitement shared by nearly 500 students from kindergarten through 12th grade at Wakefield Community School. For about an hour Monday, students, teachers and school staff gathered on the football practice field west of the school and stood, sat or reclined flat on their back to take in the once-in-a-lifetime event.
Wakefield might not have been in the path of totality, but with 95 percent of the sun blocked by the moon at the peak of the eclipse, it still was quite a show, an event significant enough that, for several minutes, everyone's faces were tilted up toward the sky rather than down at their smartphone screens.
"I thought it was pretty cool they were taking time out to show us this," junior Tay Guill said about 20 minutes before the moon blocked out much of the sun's light, making it dark enough to cause the school's exterior security lights to pop on. "It's pretty cool how it just covers the whole sun."
A quick look at Twitter and other social media sites Monday afternoon showed images similar to those that appear in the Journal: people young and old with funny glasses on looking up at the sky.
But the funny thing was how an event in a universe that's millions of years old transfixed kids as young as 5 or 6, as well as Wakefield superintendent Mark Bejot, who admitted that he was old enough to remember watching John Glenn being rocketed into space.
When faculty members suggested that all the kids be allowed to watch the eclipse, Bejot said he had no hesitation to order 500 sets of the special protective glasses.
Yes, the event was educational, he said, as evidenced by all the neat crafts the younger students created to illustrate how an eclipse works. Teachers throughout the building designed lessons around the eclipse, so there was a lot of learning associated with the event.
But more important, Bejot said, was just getting the chance to witness such an event.
"I think school's about providing experiences for kids," he said. "Sure, there are academic components, but it's most important to give them the experience."
It might be the only time any of these kids, or adults for that matter, get to experience the eerie feeling of watching the blue sky grow dim in the middle of the afternoon.
Students reacted with smiles, looks of awe on their faces. You could see the word "Cool" being mouthed by many of them.
Anything that causes a teenager to put down his or her phone for a few minutes and go quiet must be cool.
The growing silence at the peak of the eclipse spoke volumes. A few moments of stillness contained more unspoken exclamation points than sentences full of excited chatter.
Events like this remind us that the universe can be an awe-inspiring place, treating us to a show unmatched by anything found on one's phone.
Monday's eclipse was an experience like no other.
Add as many exclamation points as you wish when describing it.