Thirty-plus students gathered in Olin Plaza on Thursday, Nov. 16 for the second annual Celebration of Lights. Students braved the cold to listen as their peers shared stories about their cultural and religious traditions, sang, and played music. Afterwards, Presidential Advisor of Equity and Inclusion and Assistant Dean of Students Terrence Williams delivered closing remarks in honor of Reverend Charles Rice and the event closed with a candle-lighting.
The Celebration of Lights began last year when current junior Lizzy DeWitt became inspired after hearing how other schools had honored students and culture at a conference for Students Today Alumni Tomorrow (STAT) with Associate Director of Student and Young Alumni Engagement Elizabeth Burns.
Dewitt described the presentation that sparked the idea, saying, “One of the presentations that I went to was [done by] a school that had an event called ‘Festival of Lights’ where they lit a tree and a menorah. I thought that this was a really cool idea, but I thought that we should include more than two religions—especially since Ursinus is made up of people from a variety of different cultures [that] practice different religions.”
The event was planned by a committee of students in STAT led by DeWitt. Burns described the process of planning the event. “[DeWitt] and her group of STAT leaders that work with her to execute the event . . . reach out to different organizations on campus, because we have a lot of different cultural and religious organizations on campus, and so they usually work [with them] to make sure we have a robust program.”
This year, the event featured a talk by junior Jonathan Guba on the tradition of Chanukah; a talk by junior Zonia Rueda on Christmas in Guatemala; a performance of “Midu Folk Song” on the guzheng by senior Luna Kang and junior Linwei Jiang; a talk on Eid/Ramadan/Night of Power by juniors Faraha Rathod and Anika Shah; a talk by senior Amarpreet Kaur on Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas; and a performance of “Bridge over Troubled Water” by the B’Naturals.
The program was dedicated to the late Reverend Charles Rice, who gave the closing remarks at last year’s event. DeWitt described the struggle of finding someone to speak in his place.
“The hardest part of planning the program this year was finding someone to say the closing remarks,” she said. “Last year, Rev. Rice gave the closing remarks and led us in the candle-lighting. As many know, Rev. Rice was a one of a kind person; he cared deeply about [the] Celebration of Lights and the people involved and what it stood for.”
Junior Zonia Rueda spoke on the power of participating in the event, “I enjoyed that I was able to talk about my culture and the aspects of Christmas that are very different in Guatemala. I also enjoyed [being] able to sing to a crowd one of the songs that is very special to me.”
In the future, DeWitt hopes to see the event become a campus tradition. She said, “I hope [the] Celebration of Lights can grow into [a] huge, campus wide event that everyone gets really excited for. Ursinus is home to people of such diverse backgrounds, cultures, and religions, and I really hope that the Ursinus Community continues to celebrate that for the years to come.”
DeWitt still wants to focus on the success of this year’s event, however. “When we lit the candles and had to huddle close together to try and get them to all stay lit, the crowd broke out into song, and we all sang ‘This Little Light of Mine.’ It was truly a beautiful moment!”