Finding your place in collective unity

A night spent Lighting the Lawn

The Lighting of the Lawn is a 16-year-old University tradition, meant to promote unity and togetherness in the University and Charlottesville community. It was created in the aftermath of 9/11, but, despite the passing years, the tradition still stands strong and cherished. On Thursday night, I experienced the rhythmic, bright lights for myself, and I was not disappointed.

Admittedly, at first, I held little interest in attending. After being on Grounds for eight hours straight, the last thing that sounded enjoyable was staying an extra four hours in the frigid, outdoor air. My introverted-self could envision the door to my apartment and could feel the warmth of my collected blankets, but I still wandered to the Lawn.

All in all, that choice to attend was a good one.

Students were clustered together, neon-colored glow sticks around their necks, to keep warm in the cold. Some waited in long lines for warm refreshments and powdered treats — I did not partake in these specific activities. Instead, I pushed towards Pavilion IV and, on behalf of my suitemate’s generous offer, spent the evening with politics students.

The pavilion was a welcoming balance of warmth, cheer and holiday spirit. In the corner of the room, a Christmas tree brandished festive ornaments, red-checkered ribbon and soft lights — not to mention the star on top that wrapped everything together. The walls were covered with pictures and memorabilia of Kennedy, our former president, and extravagant hors d’oeuvres were laid out on silver platters for the pavilion’s guests. It was truly a magical place.

As I was there, I learned to appreciate the importance of small, school-affiliated functions. Not only did the events offer a fun form of stress-relief and the opportunity to meet people, but the close-knit group made our University seem a bit smaller and a little less intimidating. Whether in a decadent pavilion or in the dark basement of New Cabell, it is very important to find a place that makes students feel part of the community. For me, especially, it was a nice change of pace from my typical lifestyle.

After the political ponderings and warm festivities, my suitemates rushed to the Lawn — pushing through clusters of still-standing students, our arms linked with a rising sense of claustrophobia, to find a spot with a view of the Rotunda. We were far back, relatively speaking, but it was impossible to miss the speakers’ amplified voice or the countdown from our classmates. From our spot, we still saw the colorful lights, we still heard the pounding music, we still were a part of the unity that this tradition promoted at our University. We still contributed to the roaring rendition of the Good Old Song and we swayed together, arms outstretched.

Ironically enough, I waited on the Lawn for three hours to participate in this event and the lighting itself lasted all of 10 minutes. That being said, it was well-worth the wait. Since arriving at the University, the Lighting of the Lawn was the first time I had felt a real sense of community and that, in and of itself, is an indication as to why this tradition has continued for 16 years and why it will continue on.

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