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Science teacher hosts eclipse party he’d promised students for 46 years

Science teacher hosts eclipse party he’d promised students for 46 years
Posted at 2:25 PM, Apr 09, 2024

Patrick Moriarty taught earth science to ninth graders in New York’s Webster Central School District for 16 years. Every year while teaching about Earth’s major cyclic changes, he passed out a sheet detailing all the eclipses that would appear through the year 2030. One date was underlined: April 8, 2024, when an eclipse would occur over New York and Moriarty promised he’d throw an eclipse viewing party for all his students. 

That was 1978. On Monday, he made good on that promise.

“I told the kids we were going to get together that day and I meant it,” Moriarty said. “Here we are the day after. It was wonderful. It feels like a promise well-kept.”

eclipse worksheet
Patrick Moriarty

Moriarty, now retired from working in school administration and living in nearby Brighton, New York, hosted more than 100 of his former students in his front yard Monday to view the eclipse together. Though planning the event technically started 46 years ago in his classroom, Moriarty began planning in earnest in 2022 when he created a private Facebook event. He had a local pizza place cater and his daughter brought over a karaoke machine that he used as a microphone to narrate the science of what they were seeing. Some attendees had custom t-shirts made for the event, and others who couldn’t attend in-person sent their regards from afar so Moriarty knew they were thinking of him.

former students in custom t-shirts
Patrick Moriarty

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“I had over 100 of them here but I’ve also heard from well over 100 students that couldn’t be here that just wanted to wish me well,” he said.

Moriarty’s passion for science began when he was a student himself.

“I was always into earth science as a high school student,” he said. “My teacher, Brian Oyer, inspired me when I had him. He had this amazing class that was called Earth Science II, which was even extended into the earth science program here in New York. Half the year we studied geology and half the year we studied astronomy. So eclipses were always an interest of mine.” 

Just as Oyer inspired him to teach earth science, Moriarty has inspired former students of his own. He was amazed to learn at Monday’s reunion how many of his former students have gone into science fields, including two who are now earth science teachers, specifically.

“So many of them turned to me and said, ‘You know, just having you as a teacher and seeing how much you loved science made me also like science,’” said Moriarty. “It was such a wonderful thing to hear from these people about the impact a teacher can make.”

patrick moriarty with former students
Patrick Moriarty

patrick moriarty and his wife ellen pose with a former student
Patrick Moriarty

He got to return to his teaching roots Monday while his “class” of more than 100 former students gathered on his front lawn and he pointed out what to look for during the event. Though the skies over upstate New York were cloudy, Moriarty said the group still experienced a lot of the effects like the temperature dropping, the skies darkening, streetlights coming on and wildlife reacting.

“I told them, ‘During the eclipse, I’m not going to say much, because I don’t want to spoil it for you, I want you to just take it all in,'” Moriarty said. “We had over 100 people here and everyone was silent, they were just taking it in, and what seemed almost more dramatic was we went from this pitch blackness to, in 15 seconds, that hazy light day again.” You can see what Moriarty and his students saw in this time lapse video he recorded: 

He and his students have already discussed plans for the next eclipse on August 23, 2044. Moriarty will be 88, he said, and the “kids” he taught his first year will be 80.

“I’ve got my eyes on it,” he said, laughing. “We all just, probably more than anything, send our regards to the future. Who knows what things are going to be like in 20 years?”

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