Thousands gather to ‘Be the Light’ for 17th annual Lighting of the Lawn

Heightened security didn’t discourage crowds

IMG_4182

The 17th annual Lighting of the Lawn's theme was "Be the Light."

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

Thousands of members of the University and Charlottesville communities gathered on the Lawn Thursday night for the 17th annual Lighting of the Lawn. Guests were required to enter the Lawn from either of two designated security entrances on the South Lawn in order to enjoy the evening of speeches, performances and a spectacular light show beamed onto the Rotunda.

“I love Lighting of the Lawn — [it’s] probably my favorite event at the University,” second-year College student Muhammad Ibrahim said. “It’s just a nice time, the community’s together.”

Planning for the event is organized by Class Councils and Fourth-Year Trustees, with support from various other groups on Grounds and affiliates of the University.

Early on in the evening, Amr Metwally, a first-year College student and member of the LOTL committee, said he felt the event was well-received and off to a strong start.

“The event’s going really great,” Metwally said. “People started storming in from the start, which was exactly what we wanted. People were getting free stuff — cookies, hot chocolate, hot cider … It’s just beautiful seeing everyone coming together and enjoying some of the shows here too.”

The theme for the evening was “Be The Light” — emphasizing not only unity, but the ability of every individual to be a positive, guiding force in the University and Charlottesville communities. The message of unity has been central to LOTL since it began in 2001 in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. LOTL, from the start, has been an occasion for the University and the Charlottesville communities to stand together.

Richard Dizon
Thousands of Charlottesville and University community members have assembled each year to come together for Lighting of the Lawn

“I love Lighting of the Lawn — it’s one of my favorite events,” second-year College student Justin Smith said. “I like remembering why we have it, like the history of it and why it started with the events of 9/11 … I like how it’s just trying to keep that message about unity.”

Many, including first-year College student Maddie Steele, consider the theme of solidarity to be especially critical this year following the events in August when torch-wielding white nationalists marched on the Lawn Aug. 11 and held a “Unite the Right” rally the following day. The events of Aug. 12 devolved into violence, resulting in a car plowing through a crowd of people, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring dozens.

“I think it’s a good response to the events that happened in August before we came down here,” Steele said. “Everybody kept saying it was such a dark time, and it really was, so I think this is a great way to show that we’re bigger than that and we can get over it.”

Smith shared a similar response to the theme, reflecting on its message and also how it specifically relates to recent events.

“I first heard about it and I just thought it was in general just about positivity,” Smith said. “We could use some positivity right now after recent events … I think it was good.”

In the past, LOTL has been an open event with easy access to and from the Lawn area. This year, the evening featured significantly heightened security measures with only two points of entry — one next to Garrett Hall and the other beside Rouss-Robertson Hall. Attendees were screened by walk-through and hand-held metal detectors as they entered and had to adhere to a clear bag policy.

Students arriving from class were permitted to bring their backpacks but had to enter the venue through designated lines where bags were individually checked.

Guests were encouraged to arrive early to the event — entrances opened at 6 p.m. Lines were not too long for the first half of the evening but grew extensively as the night continued. By 9 p.m. the wait was over 30 minutes at some points.

Despite intense security, the evening got off to a spirited start with an introduction by the executive co-chairs of LOTL, fourth-year College student Denny Smythe and fourth-year Commerce student Holly Stevens. They also shared a letter from the Angel Society with the audience.

“Each winter, we stand together despite stress and hardships,” the letter read. “Remember the hard times as well as the good, and move forward in fostering a better community for yourself and those surrounding you.”

Richard Dizon
The Virginia No-Tones and many other musical groups performed at Lighting of the Lawn

The lineup continued with a combination of performances by University musical and dance groups, as well as performances by Peabody Middle School Choir and two Albemarle High School a cappella groups. The musical performances were interspersed with speeches, beginning with student leaders from organizations such as HackCville and Madison House, followed by University President Teresa Sullivan.

The student addresses continued to highlight a wide variety of groups on Grounds celebrating diverse identities and interests. Student leaders represented groups including the Minority Rights Coalition, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team, Queer Student Union, the Women’s Center, Multicultural Greek Council, DREAMers on Grounds, NAACP, Green Grounds, branches of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition. 

Throughout the festivities — which lasted over three hours — guests could walk around the Lawn and enjoy free hot chocolate, hot apple cider and cookies or purchase refreshments from a number of food trucks stationed on the South Lawn. Six Pavilions also held private receptions for different groups and organizations, while Pavilion VIII hosted a reception open to all.

Richard Dizon
U.Va. faculty Lou Bloomfield, Carmenita Higginbotham and Craig Littlepage (pictured left to right) read the annual poem to before the light show

The event culminated with the traditional recitation of a poem containing personalized references to each class before commencing a countdown to the light show. This year, the poem was read by Physics Prof. Lou Bloomfield, outgoing Athletics Director Craig Littlepage and Assoc. Art History Prof. Carmenita Higginbotham. A dazzling array of spotlights and projections danced across the face of the Rotunda synchronized to music, after which the Rotunda, the awnings and pillars of the Lawn rooms and Pavilions remained lit, illuminating this central green space of Grounds through the winter season.

“It’s a day where you know everyone just comes together — just the whole community,” Metwally said. “Especially you see a lot of people from Charlottesville bringing their kids. It’s just a beautiful sight to see the Charlottesville community and the University community come together.”

Richard Dizon
Lighting of the Lawn is organized by members of the various class councils at the University.


Correction: The original version of this article misspelled Amr Metwally's name as Omar Metwally. This article has been updated with the correct spelling of his name.  

related stories