The 19 happiest things that happened in the news in 2019

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Our world is more interconnected than ever, which is why major stories dominate public discourse for only a moment or two before the next big thing happens. And unfortunately, tragedy, natural disasters and celebrity deaths seem to make more headlines than positive news. But there were plenty of encouraging, inspiring and adorable things that happened in 2019. Here are the 19 happiest things that happened in 2019 to give you hope for the decade ahead.

Courtesy of Walt Disney World News

Billionaire pays off student debt of graduating class

During his commencement speech in May, private equity billionaire Robert F. Smith promised to pay off all the student loans of the students and parents of the Class of 2019 at Morehouse College, one of America's historically black colleges and universities. In September, he followed through, donating $34 million and changing the lives of nearly 400 graduates amid the nation's student debt crisis.

Marcus Ingram/Getty Images

Royal baby Archie is born

Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, the son of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, was born May 6, 2019. He made his public debut at just 2 days old and then made his first official royal appearance alongside his parents in South Africa in September. Archie is seventh in line to the British throne and is the younger cousin of Prince William and Kate Middleton's three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.

Dominic Lipinski/AFP via Getty Images

World rallies around koalas

In October 2019, bushfires broke out along the eastern coast of Australia and raged for months, devastating large portions of the country and killing up to 1,000 koalas. These iconically Aussie animals live in trees and often aren't fast enough to outrun the flames. However, many koalas have been rescued from the fires and sent to animal hospitals for treatment. Locals as well as people around the world, including a Dutch quilting group, have donated homemade mittens, blankets and wraps for the injured animals, and the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital raised almost $2 million in donations to treat more than 30 burned koalas.

Nathan Edwards/Getty Images

University of Tennessee embraces bullied boy

When a Florida elementary school celebrated College Colors Day, a little boy didn't have any official merchandise but proudly wore an orange shirt with a homemade University of Tennessee logo to support his favorite college. When the boy was bullied for his shirt, his teacher posted his story to Facebook, where it gained the attention of the university. On top of sending the boy plenty of UT merchandise, the Volunteers athletic program actually reproduced his design on a shirt and donated all the proceeds to the nonprofit Stomp Out Bullying. Fans pre-ordered more than 50,000 shirts. The school later also offered him honorary admission to the Class of 2032 and a four-year scholarship to attend his favorite university.

Laura Snyder, Facebook, left/ News Service

Most diverse class of lawmakers in history sworn into Congress

In January 2019, a new class of lawmakers was sworn into the 116th Congress, making it the most diverse class in history in terms of race, ethnicity, gender and generations. Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan became the first Muslim women to serve in Congress, with Rep. Omar becoming the first member of Congress to wear a hijab. Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids became the first two Native American women elected to Congress. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at age 29.

Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

NASA holds world's first all-female spacewalk after all

NASA embarrassingly had to scrap its plans for the world's first all-female spacewalk in March 2019 because the agency realized it didn't have two properly sized spacesuits for both female astronauts. So Christina Koch took her first spacewalk outside the International Space Station alongside a male colleague. Then in October, NASA remedied the situation, and astronaut Jessica Meir and Koch took the first spacewalk conducted entirely by women to replace a battery charge/discharge unit outside the ISS. This milestone represents the growing presence and inclusion of women in NASA as well as in STEM fields.

NASA/Tribune News Service

Chicago becomes the biggest American city to forgive overdue library fees

As the decade comes to a close, the city of Chicago decided it was time to forgive and forget. The Chicago Public Library system decided to eliminate fines and erase any outstanding late fees, making it the largest major city in the U.S. to reduce or entirely eliminate fines for overdue items. This change prompted a 240% increase in the amount of borrowed books being returned, which backs up research that suggests eliminating overdue fees increases overall book return rates.

Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service

Guy gives viral 'beer money' he raised to children's hospital

A man mobilized his 15 minutes of internet fame for good in September. Carson King went viral after holding up a sign during a broadcast of ESPN's "College GameDay" before the Iowa-Iowa State football game in Ames, Iowa. His simple sign read "Busch Light Supply Needs Replenishing" followed by his address on Venmo, a person to person mobile payment system. Folks who were tickled by the stunt began sending him money, and after he received more than $1,000 in a day, King announced he would donate "all but enough for a case of Busch Light" to the University of Iowa Children's Hospital. Both Busch Light and Venmo promised matching contributions, and more than 35,000 people donated to King's Venmo, bringing his total to more than $3 million, which he presented to the hospital in October.

Matthew Holst/Getty Images

First-ever image of black hole is taken

In April, researchers were able to capture the first image of a black hole using an international network of radio telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). Because black holes themselves are impossible to see, the image shows the shadow of a supermassive black hole outlined by a disc of hot gas emissions. The black hole is at the center of a galaxy roughly 55 million light-years from Earth.

Event Horizon Telescope/ Tribune News Service

Narwhal the puppy gets rescued

A golden-colored "unicorn" puppy with a tail-like growth between his eyes captured the hearts of internet users in November 2019. Officially named Narwhal the Little Magical Furry Unicorn, the beagle-mix puppy was rescued by Mac's Mission in southeast Missouri, which received hundreds of adoption offers after posting his photo to social media. Unable to properly vet all the offers in order to protect the pup, the rescue's founder, Rochelle Steffen, ultimately decided to keep him as a "spokesdog" for the organization and plans to train him as a therapy dog.

6-year-old donates vacation money to hurricane evacuees

Six-year-old Jermaine Bell and his family saved money for a year for a birthday trip to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. But while staying with his grandmother in South Carolina, the boy told his parents he'd rather use all the funds to buy hot dogs, bags of chips and bottled water for evacuees in town fleeing Hurricane Dorian. He set up a roadside stand and handed out food to more than 100 people. Disney caught wind of his selfless act and surprised him on his seventh birthday, giving him and his family a free trip to Walt Disney World.

Courtesy of Walt Disney World News

Humpback whales recover from brink of extinction

A study published in November 2019 estimated that Western South Atlantic humpback whales, a population that was almost hunted to extinction, now number 24,900. In 1958, there were only around 440 left, but since then, they are at nearly 93% of their original population size.


Katelyn Ohashi scores a perfect 10

UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi went viral in January 2019 after scoring a perfect 10 with her funky, R&B-inspired floor routine at the NCAA Collegiate Challenge match. Her routine, which included snippets of Tina Turner's "Proud Mary," Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation" and more, went on to earn more than 70 million views on YouTube and more than 44 million on Twitter, including by Janet Jackson herself. The 22-year-old went on to attend the ESPY Awards and pose for ESPN's Body Issue.

Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service

8-way tie at national spelling bee

The 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee in May ended in an unprecedented way: an eight-way tie. The eight co-champions, all under the age of 15, spelled the final 47 words of the contest correctly, leading to a historic walk-off victory. The judges called a tie after the last eight competitors survived 20 straight rounds of words and exhausted the Bee's bank of sufficiently challenging words. Each contestant was still awarded the full cash prize of $50,000. The Bee has seen co-champions before, but no more than two kids have ever shared the title.

Alex Wong/Getty Image

Researchers get one step closer to curing AIDS

In March 2019, U.K. doctors reported that a London patient's HIV was "undetectable" following a stem cell transplant from a donor resistant to HIV. The transplant was part of the man's treatment for advanced Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer. This is the second time a patient has ended up in remission from HIV after receiving a transplant from someone with natural immunity. While this treatment was for cancer rather than HIV, it offers HIV researchers new strategies to approach finding a cure.

USWNT smashes records with World Cup win

The U.S. Women's National Team dominated the Women's World Cup during the summer of 2019 on its way to winning the World Cup for a record fourth time. The team also set a new record for the most goals in a single game in the World Cup and the highest margin of victory in a single World Cup match for both men and women with its 13-0 win over Thailand. Co-captain Alex Morgan tied the record for the most individual goals in a single women's World Cup game with five. The USWNT holds the record for the most goals in a Women's World Cup tournament, 26, and has the most wins, four, in the tournament's history.

VI Images via Getty Images

'Sesame Street' celebrates its 50th anniversary

The 50th season of beloved children's program "Sesame Street" premiered on Nov. 17 on HBO. "Sesame Street" aired a special star-studded anniversary celebration episode hosted by Joseph-Gordon Levitt with cameos from Kermit the Frog, Whoopi Goldberg and more. The show originally debuted on Nov. 10, 1969, and today it airs in more than 150 countries and is translated into 70 languages.

Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Scientists find giant tortoise presumed extinct

In February 2019, a scientific expedition in the Galapagos Islands discovered a female member of a tortoise species believed to have been extinct since 1906. This is the first confirmed sighting of a Chelonoidis phantasticus, also known as the Fernandina giant tortoise, in more than 100 years, and the team suspects there are more members of the species on the island where they found her. The Galapagos Islands are home to some of the most unique and amazing animals in the world.

Rodrigo Buendia/AFP via Getty Images

Taiwan becomes the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage

On May 24, 2019, Taiwan passed a same-sex marriage bill, making it the first country in Asia to legalize gay marriage. Thousands of supporters celebrated outside the parliament building in Taipei after the vote, and 500 same-sex couples registered their marriages on the day the new law went into effect. More than 2,000 couples have since gotten married across the island. Later that year, Taiwan's Pride Parade rivaled some of the biggest Pride Parades in the world. These events in 2019 are just the crescendo at the end of the happiest things that happened in the news in the last decade. 

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