I reluctantly pulled on my shiny black rubber boots and tossed a thick North Face jacket around me as I stomped pessimistically out of the bedbug-infested dorm. A chilly blast of sea-scented wind greeted me, flinging my hair into my mouth.
It was December 2010, and my entire seventh grade class was on a field trip to Jekyll Island. Every day was filled with excitement: bike riding through wild nature, eating sea cucumbers, squishing around in the marshes. And that was precisely why I did not want to be up at midnight to go observe some stupid turtles emerge from the surf while a guide shined a red flashlight onto their shells. Being well-rested was way more important.
Outside, standing in the sand with my assigned group, I tossed my head upward petulantly. And I saw the most beautiful and most colorful and most amazing sky ever.
The stars twinkled like polished diamonds in sunlight. The glint of the dust of the Milky Way streaked across the night like an enormous rainbow of pure gold. The rare patches of blackness seemed truly to stretch on infinitely to the unknown. I stared and stared and stared and lost track of time. All I wanted was for this image to be burned into my retinas for eternity.
As a resident of the Atlanta suburbs, I never see the sky like I did that night at Jekyll. Light pollution has instead masked the beauty of the Andromeda Galaxy and the Orion Nebula and the Pleiades. But I was forever inspired by Jekyll's night sky. What if there was unforeseen beauty everywhere that I was missing out on because I hadn't bothered to dive deep enough? I'd never been more excited about burning magnesium in chemistry; I wrote down every observation I could and risked going blind by staring directly at the reaction, worried that something fascinating might happen during the few seconds where the metal burned a blinding white.
The experience of seeing the night sky's unparalleled beauty unmasked was amazing, but it awoke me intellectually as well. Since that wonderous night, I have always been energized by the worry that I might not have unmasked the beauty of a chemical reaction or a mathematical theorem, which has motivated and excited me to think deeply about everything and uncover every single possibility or detail.
Yes, the sky's the limit - but only if you let yourself believe that.