It was a snowy November night. Students, faculty, staff, and friends gathered in Olin Plaza clutching their hot chocolates, laughing, and singing together. New friends, coming together for the first but certainly not the last time, sharing past experiences, partaking in beloved family traditions, and offering unique pieces about themselves with their fellow Bears. Fast forward five years, and this tradition continues, known as “Celebration of Lights”. Locations, participants, and hot cocoa toppings have all varied, but the thing that stays the same is the warm feelings and unconditional love that the Ursinus family has for one another during this special night.
Celebration of Lights was the brain child of Lizzy DeWitt ’19 following a Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) conference in Atlanta, Georgia. It was there she learned about another school’s tradition, where members from the school would talk about their traditions involving Christmas and Hanukkah. At the end, they would light the Christmas tree and the Menorah as a symbol of unity. Lizzy saw a need for all holidays to be celebrated, not just Christmas and Hanukkah, especially those that are often forgotten. She wanted to create an event that would show the uniqueness of the Ursinus family. The event that Lizzy envisioned would include all of the different backgrounds, cultures, and religions of the participants. Lizzy’s vision would not just highlight the different holidays, but also celebrate them with everyone.
Upon the return from the conference, Students Today, Alumni Tomorrow (STAT) students got busy. They started by reaching out to various clubs and organizations on campus, inviting them to participate in this event. The criteria for participating was simply that the participant would present, perform, or speak about something that brings them joy in their culture, religion, or family. Over the years, the event was moved to Bomberger Auditorium, more participants joined, and the event pulled in larger audiences. Professors got involved by offering extra credit for attendance. Entire classes would make it a point to attend, and this became an event that students look forward to every year.
Senior Cara Freedman ’21 is in charge of the event now. Of Celebration of Lights, Freedman says “Since Lizzy’s departure, I have helped plan for Celebration of Lights all three years I have been in STAT. I think throughout the years, the event has seen more people and has gained some more outside attention than just the students. I think the event has become something a lot of people look forward to. My committee and I received a lot of ‘we are so excited to hear this event is still happening’ emails from faculty and staff. The student groups also look forward to the event to educate their peers about what happens in their lives as well. Overall, I do believe that everyone finds this event to be the last thing that brings them together before the semester ends. This year, that will not change as we will make a video to showcase the presentations that would have happened.”
In the future, we would love to increase alumni involvement. As this event becomes bigger and more well-known, we would also love to see the Collegeville community become more engaged, to see just how great UC really is. This event is all about promoting tolerance, acceptance, and love for people who may not be the same as you. Given the current times that we are living in, an event like this is more important than ever. DeWitt says “I am really grateful for the amazing opportunities and people that this event has led me to meet. Celebration of Life will always be my favorite Ursinus memory.”
Thank you to the original key players who got it started, and worked very hard to make this into an annual event: Lizzy DeWitt ’19, Elizabeth Burns ’12, Megan Burns ’18, Katie Madden ’19, Faraha Rathod ’19, Greg Stryker ‘’19, Jonathan Guba ‘’19, Linwei Jang ’19, and Reverend Charles Rice.