The below thoughts are from UIAA staff member Danielle Wilberg, associate director of membership and development, as she heads out on an exciting EXPLORERS journey with fellow University of Illinois alumni:
From the outset of the University of Illinois Alumni Association’s “Caribbean Pearls” tour aboard Oceania’s Regatta ship, travelers were faced with an unexpected and looming hardship. Beginning on the Sunday prior to our Thursday leaving time, the national media was calling for a massive snow storm to hit the Midwest Tuesday and finish late into the night on Wednesday.
To Midwesterners, the reports of snow ending on Wednesday prior to a Thursday flight sounded like there would be a fair chance of arriving safely and on time. Our moods shifted when the Chicago news began calling the storm such nicknames as “Snowmageddon” and repeating the words “storm of the century.” Suddenly, our hopes of arriving in Miami on time sounded unlikely.
Several travelers made arrangements to leave early and were able to beat the storm by adding a few additional days in Miami to the beginning of their trip itinerary; several were able to drive to different airport locations that were further than originally scheduled; still others endured the storm and were able to join the ship just two short days after the initial embarkation at our first port of call in the Spanish Town of Virgin Gorda. While the travel aspect was grueling for some people, the lifted spirits upon venturing out, as well as the acceptance of the difficulties that only Mother Nature can impose, speaks to the Midwestern attitude that helps define our great University.
Each University tends to have its own characteristics that defines its alumni and continues to shape the future. In this case, the strong characteristics of determination and perseverance ran true. It is these characteristics that helped shape our land-grant University from a swampland to the sprawling Big Ten campus that now exists in Urbana-Champaign. It’s what helped thousands of returning GIs find a home at Navy Pier, later to become the University of Illinois at Chicago. And it’s what helps Springfield maintain its love of community and grow its long-standing liberal arts education in the Capitol of Illinois. Finally, it’s also what helped our travelers find their way to the ship and escape into the tropical paradise that defines this tour.
As I sit here and look out the window on “deck 10 forward” and see a sign that reads “Welcome to Antigua,” snow and sub-zero temperatures are now distant memories that are quickly being filled with the camaraderie of traveling with University of Illinois alumni and friends. I’m certain that the coming week will once again prove to be the experience of a lifetime.