The scent of wood smoke from Lawn room fireplaces wafted in the air as a midnight blue sky welcomed hundreds of people to the University of Virginia’s iconic Lighting of the Lawn, made all the more affecting following the school’s recent tragedy.

It was not quite freezing, but chilly enough that coats, mittens and hats were required attire.

Each year, a collection of student-picked University leaders reads a holiday-themed poem. Usually boisterous, the tone was different at this year’s 21st annual event.

One by one, four people – including head football coach Tony Elliott – read a poem flecked with emotion and reflection following the Nov. 13 shooting deaths of football players Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry.

Joining Elliott in reading the poem were Jeannine Lalonde, associate dean of admission; Julie Caruccio, assistant vice president for research on the student experience; and long-serving economics professor Ken Elzinga.

“Three stars glow bright, above our heads tonight. Devin, Lavel and D’Sean, providing our light,” read Caruccio, who also serves as UVA’s mounted Cavalier, riding her steed, Sabre, into Scott Stadium before every home football game.

“Let us remember them all in the light that we share, and fuel any dim ember into an energetic glare,” said Elliott, who stood with his co-readers on a stage in front of a darkened Rotunda. “This semester has given us hard realities to face. But we face them together and we do so with grace.”

Lights lining the Lawn pavilions
Hundreds of students and community members crowded onto the Lawn, braving near-freezing temperatures for the annual ceremony. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)
Students on stage performing a dance
For student groups, it was the first time to perform for such a large crowd in three years because of the pandemic. And they made the most of the opportunity. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)
Female dancers on stage performing in white tops and bright yellow skirts
For the first part of the ceremony, student groups performed just in front of the Rotunda, still darkened. Organizers threw the switch near the end of the event. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)
People on stage at microphones speaking
Poem readers, from left to right, economics professor Ken Elzinga; head football coach Tony Elliott; Julie Caruccio, assistant vice president for research on the student experience; and Jeannine Lalonde, associate dean of admission. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

UVA Students Welcome Public Back to Lighting of the Lawn

Thursday’s highly anticipated event marked the first time the public was welcomed back to the Lawn for the annual event since 2019, due to the pandemic. It was evident by the size of the crowd that people were ready for a return to normal.

Before the programming began at 7 p.m., hundreds of people milled about the school’s famous greensward, checking out the food trucks, craft tables and a photo booth on the South Lawn.

Children raced about, making Christmas ornaments and enjoying free cookies, hot cocoa and cider.

Well, not every child.

Four-year-old Riley was not a fan of the hot cider. When asked if she liked it, the tight-lipped child shook her head furiously. No words needed. But she and her 6-year-old brother Nash were big fans of the cookies with sprinkles.

A family walking through a tunnel of lights.
A family walking through a tunnel of lights.

In opening remarks for the program, Lighting of the Lawn co-chair Lara Arif pointed out a new feature this year: the illuminated numbers of Davis’, Chandler’s and Perry’s respective jerseys –  1, 15, and 41. They were positioned prominently on a portico of the Rotunda.

“These will be the only lights on throughout the entirety of the performances and serve as a reminder for our community that there are three stars shining upon us tonight,” she said.

What followed were performances by dozens of student groups, led off by a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

As the program progressed, the congregation of students grew at the base of the Rotunda.

With the performances done, Arif and Vogel led the massive crowd in a 10-9-8 … countdown to the grand illumination of tens of thousands of LED lights strung around the Academical Village. It was capped off by a grand lightshow, cast on the Rotunda.

The Academical Village will be lit until the end of the month.

Students toss colored glowing balls in the air on the Lawn
The Lighting of the Lawn, usually a jubilant celebration, struck a different chord this year, mixing the joy of the season with a solemn memorial for the three students murdered last month. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)
Glow in the dark ball float above the crowd watching performances on the stage
This was the first Lighting of the Lawn opened to the community since 2019. The sheer number of attendees made for memorable photos. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)
The Rotunda in purple lights while a crowd watches
The Rotunda, here glowing in a purple hue, was the center of attention for the night. UVA facilities workers spend weeks ahead of the event getting all the lights in place. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)
Man and children stand together smiling at camera
Dad Jessie Fleming, a graduate student, brought his kids out for the night. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)
The Rotunda outlined in White lights
After a countdown, the lights on the Rotunda popped on as students filled up their phones with dramatic pictures and videos of the event. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)
The numbers 1, 15, and 41 lit up in white lights on the Rotunda wall
The Lighting of the Lawn committee partnered with the School of Architecture’s Fabrication Lab to install lights illuminating Davis', Chandler's and Perry's respective jersey numbers, 1, 15, and 41. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications