The University of Virginia’s 17th annual Lighting of the Lawn officially kicked off the holiday season Thursday night with a packed and joyous three-hour extravaganza featuring dancers, a cappella groups and choirs from local middle and high schools.
On a cool and cloudy evening, thousands of students and members of the University and surrounding communities filled the Lawn for the show, which began at 7 p.m. and ended about three hours later with the grand illumination of the Lawn.
Student organizers set the night sky aglow, flipping the switch on 560 feet of rope lighting, 2,800 feet of Christmas lights and more than 11,000 highly efficient LED bulbs that adorned the Rotunda and the Academical Village. For the next several minutes, the Lawn became one big dance party, as a fantastical light show pulsed to the beats of several popular songs.
The Lawn will remain illuminated throughout the holiday season and the public is welcome to enjoy the spectacle.
Taking a stage set up in front of the Rotunda before the lights were set ablaze, UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan welcomed revelers to the festivities, “created by students and carried on by students,” she said, highlighting the student-driven nature of the event.
Indeed, students started the tradition in a show of unity in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Organizers chose “Be the Light” as this year’s theme, returning to the event’s original intention following August’s violent white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville.
In her welcome remarks, Sullivan recalled an interview with Commonwealth Professor Rita Dove, who has served as both U.S. poet laureate and poet laureate of Virginia. Dove said, “What writing does – what I think all of the arts do – is to reveal.”
Sullivan continued, “We might say the same thing about tonight’s event. The Lighting of
the Lawn is an act of revelation – it shines bright light into darkness.
“As we come together for this celebration of light, and as we consider the challenges and moments of darkness that we’ve faced in the past year, we want to do the same within our University community. … Let’s rely on our shared values and our support for one another to light our path forward.”
The evening’s mood was jubilant.
Mariah Naegele, a member of this year’s Lighting of the Lawn organizational team and a fourth-year student majoring in youth and social innovation, said she would miss being a part of the event next year.
“It’s super emotional, because I got to help on this one, as part of the marketing team,” she said.
Naegele transferred to UVA three years ago and remembers her first Lighting of the Lawn fondly.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” she said. “My sister was a first-year and we came together. It was just so exciting, especially the light show – it was just wild.”
Naegele was not the only one who didn’t know what to expect from her first Lighting of the Lawn experience.
Towheaded twins Sullivan and Health Bates, who are not quite 2, were wide-eyed as their parents, Laura and Steve, carried them up the brick-made walkway on the west range toward the Rotunda Thursday evening.
Young Sullivan, fussing in his mother’s arms, was not in the best of spirits, perhaps missing a nap.
Father Steve, a 2007 double major in economics and psychology, shrugged it off. “I don’t think we will make it to the end,” he admitted.
Thousands of others did, sending up a collective cheer as the holiday light splashed across the Lawn.