Very Special Lighting of the Lawn Will Unite the Community After Tragedy

28 November 2022

By Jane Kelly

This year is going to be different. That’s what student organizers are saying about the University of Virginia’s 2022 Lighting of the Lawn.

The event was born out of tragedy 21 years ago following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and is once again providing an opportunity for the community to heal following the senseless deaths of three beloved students and football players: Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry.

When he called them “lights” who will guide the way for their teammates at a massive memorial service on Nov. 19 for the men, head football coach Tony Elliott inadvertently foretold their future as lights for everyone.

Fourth-year student Lara Arif, co-chair of the Lighting of the Lawn planning team, put it another way. “It’s time that we find little moments of joy and celebrate in the light of those three men,” she said.

This year’s Lighting of the Lawn will take place Dec. 1 from 7 to 9 p.m., starting with performances by student groups and culminating with a light show that in years past has featured pulsing electronic music. Arif said after the shootings Nov. 13, her team came together and quickly determined they needed to reorient the event, which had largely been finalized.

“In light of the recent tragedy, we sat down with our light show and our drama folks and we said, ‘Are these songs appropriate? Are people going to want to celebrate in the way that we traditionally celebrate Lighting of the Lawn?’ And the answer that we came up with was ‘No,’” she said.

So, the light committee is compressing what usually takes a month and a half of programming into a week and a half, including Thanksgiving break, to recalibrate the song list and syncopated light show.

A Way To Give to the Families

Soon after Nov. 13, Arif’s team recognized an opportunity to help the families of Davis, Chandler and Perry. Emma Nardon, who chairs the committee that organizes Lighting of the Lawn activities on the South Lawn, suggested redirecting raffle funds from 9/11-related causes to the GoFundMe pages for the respective men.

“She reached out and said, ‘Hey, I think it would be important for us to target this cause specifically to families of the victims,’ so we decided to go in that direction and I’m really happy we did,” said Caroline Abel, Lighting of the Lawn’s marketing co-chair.

People can bid on one of three baskets of merchandise, with all proceeds going to the families of Davis, Chandler and Perry. Contributions to the raffle can be made until Nov. 30.

Lighting of the Lawn, ‘Full Power’

Student organizers settled on the theme “Full Power” for this year’s Lighting of the Lawn in August to recognize that the past few years at UVA have been challenging, in part, because of COVID-19.

“This theme was really originally intended to acknowledge that this would be our first year back to that new normal, back to the UVA that a lot of us had known in the pre-COVID years, and sort of a celebration of that,” Arif said. So now we’re reorienting ‘Full Power’ to mean that it is only together and only as a community that we are able to have this full power, this full power to love, this full power to remember, the full power to offer the light.”

All of the lights will be powered by solar energy for the show. The Lighting of the Lawn committee has also partnered with the School of Architecture’s Fabrication Lab to install lights illuminating Davis, Chandler and Perry’s respective jersey numbers, 1, 15, and 41.

Lights and More Lights

By all accounts, UVA’s Facilities Management team is the linchpin of Lighting of the Lawn.

They and students hold organizational meetings all year, Arif said, and the Central Grounds Zone Maintenance team of electricians and roofers begins hanging the more than 11,000 lights along Lawn balconies and the Rotunda weeks ahead of the event.

“I don’t think this event would ever be possible without the incredible help of the Facilities Management folks,” Arif stressed.

Because of the pandemic, this will be the first time since 2019 that Lighting of the Lawn will  reopen to community members.

The event will feature some fun, interactive activities, including ornament-making and photo booths on the South Lawn in addition to food trucks selling Mexican, Mediterranean and American cuisine. Free cider, hot cocoa, pastries and cookies will be available on the upper Lawn.

Lighting of the Lawn also will be livestreamed.


UVA’s Lighting of the Lawn is free and open to the public. The University’s clear bag policy will not be in effect, but organizers are encouraging attendees to either use a clear bag or to not bring a bag unless absolutely necessary.

Entrances and walk-through metal detectors will be located on the South Lawn, on the Garrett Hall sidewalk near the McIntire Amphitheater, and on the Rouss/Robertson Hall sidewalk. These will be the only areas to enter the event. Re-admittance is permitted.

Attendees needing ADA-accessible entrances can enter through any west side entrance to the Lawn.

Restrooms will be available near pavilions VIII and X, behind the Thomas Jefferson statue near the South Lawn, and near Garrett Hall. ADA-accessible bathrooms are located in McGuffey Alley.

Empty water bottles are permitted and can be filled at water filling stations near pavilions VII and VIII and on the South Lawn.

Arif said her team hopes this year’s event can still be celebratory. But she said “Grounds really haven’t been the same since the tragic events of that Sunday. So, the entire committee … really understands this and understands just how important this event is every year, but really especially this year.”

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The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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