Every year at the end of the fall semester the Charlottesville and UVa communities come together for a night of spectacular lights, exciting performances, and remembrance. This is the Lighting of the Lawn, and it has been going on since 2001 as a response to the 9/11 Twin Towers tragedy. In the wake of UVa’s own tragedy of losing Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler, and D’Sean Perry as well as the several shootings that happened nationwide shortly after, an event celebrating our community’s strength couldn’t have come at a better time. The glowing numbers one, fifteen, and forty-two illuminated the right side of the Rotunda in reverence to the friends, sons, and members of UVa lost. Their jersey numbers on the wall were a joyful reminder that they were still with UVa and that their glowing presence has not left.
This year’s theme, “Full Power” seems poignant. The Lighting of the Lawn team said that “above all, it is a celebration of the joy and togetherness that are back at their full capacity on Grounds and in Charlottesville”. Hundreds of students, faculty, and Charlottesville residents gathered on the Lawn in front of the Rotunda as a sign of strength and resilience despite years of challenges. From COVID-19, which shut the nation down, to recent events, it seems is trying and succeeding in finally turning back on the full power of UVa. In the honor of the lives lost, the community perseveres and celebrates life and the future. The Lighting of the Lawn is a symbol of this resilience and is a long loved tradition that will last for years to come.
Despite the looming presence of finals and past events, the night of the lighting was full of cheer and holiday spirit. Down on South Lawn, children crafted their own ornaments with pom poms and glitter. Students took group photos in front of fun backdrops. Hot drinks sloshed from huge blue vats to keep the chilly but clear night at bay. In addition to student-favorite food trucks like Tako Nako and Halal Kitchen, a few of UVa’s own clubs showed up to feed the masses. Challah for Hunger passed out their delectable pastries to raise awareness for hunger on a national and local level. Not far away FeelGood was serving up fresh toasted sandwiches to also fundraise for efforts against world hunger.
Walking up to the main event at the Rotunda, the holiday spirit was abundant. Lawnies gathered in their cozy rooms with friends, with some around quaint fires while others congregated outside in PJs and Santa hats. In the windows of the main houses around the Lawn were magnificent trees ornamented in tinsel and baubles that dazzled in the yellow glow of the lights. Seeing the joy and camaraderie line the Lawn was a reminder that there is still goodness in the world. Bitterness doesn’t win the day.
The event officially began with stunning performances from the University Singers and followed by round after round of UVa’s most talented dance groups and accapella carolers. From classic carols to modern versions of “Here Comes Santa Claus,” there was a little something for everyone. The crowd went especially wild for AKAdeMix’s tightly choreographed set to a hip-hop rendition of the Nutcracker. Everyone clamored to get as close to the Rotunda as possible as the performances progressed and neared the main event.
What is it about flashing lights in-sync with upbeat music that gets people going? Perhaps it is the colorful bulbs of blues, gold, reds, and greens that glitter in the eyes of the little kids on parents’ shoulders. Maybe it’s the familiar music that everyone can sing-shout to in varying degrees of harmony. Some people simply enjoy the synchronicity of light and sound. Whatever excites the most, the Lighting of the Lawn triggered a wave of energy and excitement that radiated throughout Charlottesville. People danced, snapped photos and videos, and lost their minds when huge inflatable balls were tossed off balconies into the crowd below. This was the full power of UVa, of Charlottesville. Joy will win. Love triumphs hate. No one can escape the holiday spirit.
As students wrap up the semester and push through finals we will not forget the setbacks and pains of the past. They will learn from them. They will thrive in honor of those who cannot be with them. They will live in full power of their capabilities and do so as one. They will always be UVa Strong.