Opinion: Stephen Hawking: A Man Worthy of Immortalization

By Branwyn Wilkinson

Assistant Opinion Editor

This week we lost one of the greatest scientific minds the world has ever known. Stephen Hawking was best known for his big bang theory, showing the universe had a beginning, and his book, A Brief History of Time, and, of course, for accomplishing all of this while living with ALS, a disease that usually proves fatal in early adulthood. Hawking was 76.

I wish I could say my knowledge of Stephen Hawking came from more than just passing news articles, his guest appearances on shows like Star Trek, and watching and rewatching The Theory of Everything, but alas my knowledge of Hawking always came more from his appearances as a public figure than from his work as a scientist.

This fact doesn’t diminish the level of respect and awe I have always viewed Stephen Hawking with. Actually, I think it kind of emphasizes it. How many scientists are publicly recognizable figures too? I only know of two: Hawking and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. How many people in wheelchairs are publicly recognizable figures? Hawking was the exception, and he was exceptional.

Plus the man studied space! I’ve been fascinated with space for as long as I can remember, and if I liked math just a little bit more, I’d probably be completing a major in the sciences instead of the humanities. Not only did Hawking study space, which just might be the coolest thing to study, he found the beginning of space! He was an exceptional man, with an exceptional mind.

Since I don’t study space myself, I live vicariously through those who do. I follow Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Twitter, watch Nova and other science shows, and do other nerdy stuff like plan a movie night to sob through The Theory of Everything (for the fourth time) with my best friend.

I know science (and crying over science-based romance-type movies) isn’t everyone’s thing, but I think we all can agree Stephen Hawking was one of the greats. My twitter feed on Wednesday certainly agreed. The tributes were beautiful, particularly Obama’s: “Have fun out there among the stars.”

Wow, I miss Obama. And Stephen Hawking. March sucks, but ok, rant over.

Maybe we all agree on Stephen Hawking’s greatness, because we all can understand the theory he came up with that made him so great. Stephen Hawking made science accessible to the common mind. He wasn’t one of those scientists that got so caught up in the science that he didn’t seem human anymore. Stephen Hawking was both.

Maybe he maintained his humanity because of his disability. Hawking endured ALS with grace. He didn’t let it keep him from his work and his passion, and he didn’t let it make him bitter. In fact, quite the opposite. Stephen Hawking was well known for his sense of humor, a quality he maintained even as his body deteriorated around him.

His illness became part of his persona, but not in a bad way. Because ALS wasn’t his whole persona. His wheelchair and electronic voice were part of what made him Stephen Hawking, but only so far as they made him look and sound distinctive. His mind is what made him Stephen Hawking.

Whether you’re a scientist or just a scientist wannabe like me, Stephen Hawking was a man we all can look up to, and a man we will all miss. It feels weird to grieve for a man we never met, who most of us knew only through movies a pop culture. Yet here we all are, left with the knowledge that the world was a better place three days ago when Stephen Hawking was still in it.

He will be missed, but he will not be forgotten. His contributions to science were too great. He was an icon, in science and in overcoming disability. He is worthy of immortalization.

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.”

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