November 24, 2015

Themed “How the Grinch Stole Wahoowa,” the 2015 Lighting of the Lawn at the University of Virginia is designed to bring the University and the local community together to celebrate the event’s 15th anniversary.

Scheduled for Dec. 3, the event will feature musical and dance performances starting at 7 p.m., following opening remarks by Allen W. Groves, UVA associate vice president and University dean of students. The evening will culminate in lighting the holiday lights around the Academical Village.

First held in 2001 as a way for the community to help heal following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Lighting of the Lawn has become a UVA holiday tradition.

That sense of tradition was attractive to Sarah DeShields, a fourth-year media studies major with a leadership minor. A veteran of the lighting ceremony, she co-chairs this year’s Lighting of the Lawn committee.

“As a first-year from Florida not knowing a soul, I applied to Lighting of the Lawn to meet other students and become more involved with the school,” DeShields said. “Little did I know, it was one of the most incredible events on Grounds that would change my time at the University.”

This year’s event is designed to draw people from the surrounding community.

“We want to emphasize the connection between the community and the University,” said Andrew Burrill, a fourth-year drama major who is the program director of the ceremony. “‘How the Grinch Stole the Wahoowa’ references the Rolling Stone article, the Hannah Graham situation, and how these things tried to take the essence of what is UVA. And we are showing that we are standing on a foundation of solidarity with the local community.”

As part of this effort to blend the communities, two a cappella groups from local schools will be among the 29 performers at the ceremony. The T-Tones, from Charlottesville High School, and The Minutemen, from Albemarle High School, will perform, along with DMR Adventures, a local community singing group. UVA performers will include the Virginia Gentlemen, the Hullabahoos and the Radio Music Society, a string group.

Burrill said there will also be dance performances, from groups such as such as X-Tasee, a hip-hop dance group; spoken word performances; and the customary reading of the class poem by three guest speakers whose identities are being kept secret until that night. Burrill said several of the details of the lighting ceremony, including the song selection and who will throw the switch, are being kept secret.

The residents of several pavilions will host receptions and students will serve hot chocolate, hot cider and cookies. UVA Dining is providing about 98 dozen cookies and 200 gallons of hot chocolate.

Burrill said the light show – designed by professor Lee Kennedy, who teaches lighting design in the drama department, and Kevin Seitter, a 2015 graduate of the School of Engineering and Applied Science who worked on the light show for the last three years – will start around 10 p.m.

“The lights will be synchronized to music,” Burrill said, “and will go the entire length of the Lawn along the Pavilions and Lawn rooms.”

Organizers first incorporated the light show into the event three years ago, and each year students have tried to top the previous year’s effort.

“Since this year is the 15th anniversary of Lighting of the Lawn, we’re trying to raise the bar yet again and ‘wow’ the audience,” DeShields said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing the reaction to a few of our big changes this year.”

Facilities Management employees and student volunteers are installing the lights – more than 12,000 low-energy LED lights and seven 150-foot rope lights along the Lawn balconies, the Pavilion columns and on the Rotunda. There are also 132 strings of lights and rope lights connected by hundreds of yards of cords linking 18 different lighting zones.

In the days leading up to the event, Central Grounds Zone Maintenance Supervisor Dave Roberts will spend about 15 to 20 hours with a total of 25 to 30 students sorting, moving and installing lights along the Lawn balconies and on the Pavilion columns.

“As the light show begins, each year as I look down the Lawn with the flashing lights, glow sticks in the air, and as students and faculty alike dance to the music – it’s the most rewarding part of hosting the event,” DeShields said. “The incredible joy and excitement felt from the crowd is an unforgettable experience.”

Ceremony planners have worked around the ongoing renovations of the Rotunda. The construction fence will be moved closer to the building to allow space for a stage to be set up in front of it and for the crowds to get closer.

Admission is free, but students will collect donations for Hope House, a local charity, with fundraising events also scheduled throughout the week leading up to Dec. 3.

“After 15 years of lighting up our ‘home,’ we are working to light up the homes of our fellow community members, specifically those in the greater Charlottesville community,” DeShields said. “Hope House provides housing and intensive case management for families experiencing homelessness, or those at risk of becoming homeless, or split up and housed in different locations.”

Parking is available in the Central Grounds parking garage (for a fee), as well as the Emmet/Ivy and Culbreth parking garages.

Burrill predicted a crowd of between 7,000 to 8,000 and said for those who cannot attend, the event will be live-streamed on the Lighting of the Lawn website.  

“This is part of the restoration of our community,” he said.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications