Lighting of the Lawn will return to Grounds for its 21st annual event Thursday evening with the theme “Full Power.”
Lara Arif, co-chair of the LOTL Committee and fourth-year Batten student, has been involved with the Lighting of the Lawn Committee since her first year on Grounds. In the time since, Arif said the group has become her favorite involvement at the University. Its 48 members come from all four undergraduate classes.
“Ever since first year, I’ve just been in love with this event — what it means and what it does for the community,” Arif said.
LOTL was founded following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks as a way to foster unity among the University and Charlottesville communities. Planning for this year’s event began in early March, but picked up later that spring. Throughout the fall, the Committee has held general body meetings every Monday evening to prepare.
The Commitee is responsible for raising the funding necessary to put on the show — including the cost for receptions, audio and visual needs, paying Facilities Management and lighting. This year, the group received support from the Student Engagment Fund through Alumni Hall, the Parents Fund, the office of the vice president for student affairs, various CIOs and individual donors.
Arif noted that a unique challenge faced by the Committee this year was that she is one of just three individuals in the group to have experienced a Lighting of the Lawn before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year’s LOTL was hosted amid mask mandates and 2020’s LOTL was virtual.
“We've been locked down and restricted in different capacities throughout the past few years, but this is the first year where things start to feel normal again,” Arif said. “This LOTL in a lot of ways would have been the first sort of a hallmark tradition that a lot of us will get to experience that is back to that normal state.”
This sense of togetherness originally served as the inspiration for the Committee’s theme this year — “Full Power.” Since the tragic deaths of Lavel Davis Jr., D'Sean Perry and Devin Chandler in a fatal shooting the evening of Nov. 13, however, the meaning of this theme has changed.
Members of the Committee’s Executive Board convened quickly to determine how to best move forward with planning for LOTL.
“Everyone was on the same page that this more than ever is needed by the community this year,” Arif said. “This Lighting of the Lawn is more important now than it's ever been.”
Still, Arif said the Committee felt that it would not be appropriate to host the same event as in years past. Rather, the group would need to meet students halfway and acknowledge that the University community is still grieving and many might find it difficult to celebrate during that process.
“The hardest part was sitting down two weeks ago and having to predict what the energy on campus would be two weeks in advance,” Arif said. “We had to guess what students would be ready for two weeks out and luckily, I think we guessed correctly.”
To honor the lives of Davis, Perry and Chandler, the Committee plans to light up the players’ jersey numbers in the windows of the Rotunda prior to the start of the light show. All three were members of the Virginia football team. The traditional LOTL poem has also been rewritten to commemorate the strength and resilience of the University community, and will be read by Economics Prof. Kenneth Elzinga, Associate Dean of Admission Jeannine Lalonde, men’s basketball Coach Tony Elliott and Julie Caruccio, asst. vice president for research on the student experience.
The group also abandoned two of the songs it had originally chosen for the event’s light show after deciding that its traditional EDM music would not be appropriate, scrapping more than a month of coding work. This meant two entirely new songs — which Arif teased as “better than any of my four years” on the Committee — had to be coded in less than a few weeks. The songs used during the LOTL light show are traditionally kept top-secret among the 48 members of the Committee.
“I think one of the best parts is that surprise element that LOTL has by not telling people what the songs are and having it be this big surprise celebration,” Arif said. “I really think that with the three songs we have in the program this year, students are all going to have that experience.”
The Committee also decided to re-orient its theme, a decision Arif characterized as particularly daunting given that the group had already ordered all of the merchandise and prepared all of the marketing materials for the event.
“We've reinterpreted this “Full Power” theme to not necessarily be an interpretation of normalcy, but more so a celebration of the strength of the community when you all come together and unify together,” Arif said. “We're really stressing that it's only when you come together as a community that you can all have the full power — that’s the full power to love, the full power to remember the members that we lost and the full power to offer light in what really feels like dark days on Grounds.”