FRIENDS, COLLEAGUES, MEMBERS of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada—thank you for gathering here at the University of Victoria for our annual symposium. Today, I will deliver an announcement of such scientific magnitude that few of you will leave this campus the same. Some might not leave at all.
In years past, much of our speculation has focused on so-called “String Theory.” We have charted the notion that infinitesimal “strings” generate the universe from their good vibrations. Granted, we’ve had trouble convincing the public that the world as they know it may be nothing more than a cosmic Grateful Dead tour, billions of tiny jam bands noodling on nanoscopic instruments.
Recently, I stumbled upon another, equally strange astrophysical phenomenon. I have identified a new gravitational force, which may be centered upon this very campus. I call my discovery Ring Theory.
First, the evidence. I began to document gravitational disturbances around the university some 15 years ago, when I arrived in Victoria as an undergraduate. I grew up in Ontario and had never been to BC. Why transfer to UVic? Partly it was to study at the esteemed Writing Department, partly the lure of the unknown—and perhaps an invisible hand drew me westward. Still, Vancouver Island seemed then as distant and as alien as Pluto, a lonely hunk of rock clinging to the margins of the map.
I wasn’t alone in my ignorance. After I paid the registration fees through my local bank, the funds were sent instead to Victoria University, a college at the University of Toronto. My banker couldn’t conceive that anyone would willingly leave the province for an institution on the edge of nowhere. (Of course, even Copernicus couldn’t convince some citizens of Ontario that the sun doesn’t revolve around the CN Tower.)
After solving this snafu, I arrived to find a campus unlike one I’d ever seen. At my former school back east, the buildings were connected by tunnels, so students could dodge the four months of fierce winter. Some pallid scholars relied on this subterranean labyrinth so much that they hadn’t seen the sun in years.
At UVic, on the island of eternal spring, co-eds ambled tree-shaded pathways instead. While much of campus life took place inside the buildings along the university’s roundabout, I noticed that—like the particle accelerators we use in our own experiments—Ring Road exerts a centripetal force that draws visitors toward its centre. Here, in the shadow of the library, student bodies coalesce in various states of languor, and the real learning begins.
(An unusual proliferation of Oryctolagus cuniculus has also been observed on these grassy commons. I leave it to colleagues in the Biology Department to determine why this “Ring effect” attracts the common rabbit and Homo studentus in equal numbers.)
My theory might have remained a footnote had I not tried to escape the campus. I spent a year at graduate school back east (where a -30°C winter left me longing for tunnels again) and another term teaching English overseas. After a flurry of resumé submissions, I found myself drawn once more to UVic, this time as a sessional instructor in the English Department.
A few years later, I tried to leave a second time. I took a new job in Toronto, where I dodged traffic, worked late and raced to meet deadlines. I figured I’d grow old there, perhaps faster than I’d hoped.
Then, like a wormhole in the intergalactic ether, another opportunity opened: a new position at my alma mater. Soon, I had stowed my winter wear again. I was heading back to the Ring, this time for good. Resistance, I realized, was futile.
My experiences might not seem typical. Other UVic grads manage to accept their degrees and exit the campus without looking back—or so they think. My research into Ring Theory, however, helped crack some of the university’s other cosmological mysteries. Why, for instance, does the observatory dome atop the Elliott Building sport such an enigmatic smile? Campus astronomers, it seems, have secretly known a law of physics that many alumni only suspect: We might chase the stars after we leave these grounds, but a far greater force keeps calling us home.