Lighting of the Lawn celebrated its twentieth anniversary Monday night with the theme “Brighter Than Ever,” signaling the event’s return to an in-person experience after being held virtually last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
LOTL was founded following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks as a way to foster unity among the University and Charlottesville communities. Powered by over 11,000 lights spanning the Rotunda and the Lawn, this year’s light show lasted about 22 minutes total — twice as long as in previous years — in honor of the event’s twentieth anniversary.
Attendance was recorded at around 14,000 people. The first 8,000 attendees received glowsticks to be used during the light show — more than double the amount in 2019, when 3,000 glow sticks were handed out.
Prior to the central light show, food trucks selling Filipino food, tacos and popcorn spanned South Lawn, as well as several photo booths where families and friends could take photos of themselves adorned in illuminated jewelry. Complimentary cookies, cider and hot chocolate were also offered in the center of the Lawn while supplies lasted.
The event began with an introduction from the co-chairs of LOTL, fourth-year College students Emma Sisk and Zach Steele.
“Last year was a very difficult time for all of us, but we have found our light and arrived stronger on the other side,” Sisk said. “Tonight will reflect the resilience of our school and community as we all stand ‘Brighter Than Ever’ before.”
The introduction was immediately followed by a series of 16 festive performances featuring over 30 different student organizations.
University Singers opened the night with a rendition of “Carol of the Bells,” which was followed by dance performances from K-Edge and Virginia Dance Company. Throughout the night, a cappella groups including Hoos in Treble, Academical Village People, Silhooettes and Hullabahoos performed for the crowd, along with dance groups such as University Dance Company, Akademix and Xtasee.
Following the performances, Ian Solomon, dean of the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, Pamela Cipriano, dean of the School of Nursing, Physics Prof. Lou Bloomfield and Robyn Hadley, vice president and chief student affairs officer, read a poem addressed to students at the University.
The audience then put their arms around each other’s shoulders for a familiar rendition of “The Good Old Song” before the countdown to the official light show began. Sisk noted that this was her favorite part of the night.
“Those minutes were so special, to see a crowd of thousands all swaying together in anticipation and excitement,” Sisk said.
Once the lights on the Rotunda switched on, the previously silent crowd launched into an 11-minute dance party. Attendees sang and bopped their heads to music from a playlist that had been customized months in advance — this year, songs were confirmed in September in order to ensure that there would be enough time to program the light show.
Second-year Engineering student Jason Nguyen hadn’t watched the livestream of LOTL his first year and said that his favorite part of the event was “definitely the light show,” although he wished that it was longer than it was.
“I heard [LOTL] was a big tradition for U.Va.,” Nguyen said. “The light show was fun, a lot of the singing groups and dancing groups were entertaining.”
After around 11 minutes, the typical time for a LOTL light show, an announcement was made about a surprise to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the event. After a brief silence, the Rotunda once again lit up, leading the crowd into another 11 minutes of fun, music and lights.
The crowd at LOTL was made up of students across all years at the University, who came to the event for different reasons and with different expectations. First year students were eager for the opportunity to delve into University traditions.
“I felt like it’s an experience I wanted to have while I was at U.Va., so why not come the first year?” first-year Engineering student Anastasia Nicholson said. “The dancing groups were my favorite part — they were really impressive.”
Upperclassmen have only had one or two chances to see LOTL in person since their first year — many also chose not to watch it virtually last year.
“The last time we were at LOTL was our first year so I was very excited to come back and see it in person,” third-year College student Zainab Jaffa said. “Honestly I think I had more fun this year because the people I was with I’m closer to … first year I kind of just went with my hall and so I was more excited about it this year because of my friends.”
Third-year College student Riley Reynolds said that as a transfer student, it was a “given” that she attended LOTL in order to participate in as many University traditions as possible before graduating.
Halfway through the second half of the light show, luminescent inflatable balls began falling from the sky, tossed into the crowd from the roofs of Lawn rooms. Students in the crowd began to jump up and down, trying to hit one of the balls as the night progressed against a backdrop of music and festive lights.
Third-year Engineering student Gabriel Silliman managed to catch one of the balls and carried it under his arm following the conclusion of the light show, saying that it was one of the best parts of the night.
“It was fun first year, it’s fun this year — it was lit,” Silliman said.