MINNEAPOLIS — It wasn't all doom and gloom in 2017. The year was also filled with awe-inspiring moments that united us and warmed the heart.
The first total solar eclipse to cross the U.S. in a century bought millions together in what some could only describe as a primal experience. Thousands of immigrants took the oath of citizenship, realizing their dreams of becoming Americans. And one adorable baby, Fiona the hippopotamus, became a story of survival as she overcame the odds and tumbled into the world's heart.
The stories provided some lighthearted moments amid a series of deadly mass shootings, terrorist attacks, hurricanes, wildfires, sexual harassment scandals and other tragic news in 2017.
Here's a look at a few of the moving, unifying and just plain fun moments of 2017:
It seems nothing brought Americans together more than the first total solar eclipse to move across the U.S. in a century.
For one moment in the middle of an August day, millions of people stopped what they were doing and gazed upward in wonder as the moon slipped over the sun — leaving a path of total darkness that stretched from Oregon to South Carolina. Some eclipse watchers sang, some danced and some were moved to tears. Kids thought it was pure magic, and people traveled to remote sections of the country to get the best glimpse.
A study by the University of Michigan, requested by NASA, estimated that 215 million American adults — or 88 percent of the country's adult population — viewed the eclipse either directly or electronically. That's 104 million more than the 2017 Super Bowl.
"People were really just about nature, about this phenomenon that was happening," said Mamta Patel Nagaraja, who works on public engagement for NASA. "It didn't matter what color, creed, race, economic ladder you were on, people just went out and enjoyed it.
"It transcended all the other things," she said.
This little one wasn't expected to make it.
Fiona, a Nile hippopotamus, was just 29 pounds (13 kilograms) when she was born prematurely in January. After early health scares, she's now thriving at more than 600 pounds (272 kilograms). This sassy girl has become a symbol of survival — and the star attraction at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.
Fiona has captivated the masses and the Team Fiona craze isn't slowing down. She stars in her own internet video series. Tens of millions have gone online to watch her take a bottle, splash in the pool or learn to run.
T-shirts bear her image. She's the subject of children's books. An ice cream flavor and local brew are named in her honor. She gets so many cards and letters that she has her own mail bin. Grown men will lean over the pool in their suits and ties to get close to her, said zoo director Thane Maynard.
"It's Fiona's world, and we're just living in it," Maynard said.
In her early, most vulnerable days, Fiona received letters and pictures from kids who were preemies themselves, urging her to stay strong. After nurses at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center helped care for the hippo, the zoo sent Fiona-themed onesies to the preemies there.
"We are working with Fiona and her story to spread a number of messages — one is a message of not giving up," Maynard said.