The Lighting of the Lawn has become a high-spirited celebration of the holiday season, providing one last hurrah before students buckle down for exams. The first such event, coming on the heels of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, began on a more somber note. “It’s been a tough semester and we wanted something that would unify everyone, a joyful ending that would cement everyone together,” said Portman Wills, president of the Class of 2002, at the inaugural event. “People may … see it as a one-off, but I would love to see it institutionalized.”

Wills got his wish. After marking its 10th anniversary this December, the Lighting of the Lawn is now firmly entrenched as a favorite University tradition. This year’s festivities included performances by nearly 20 student groups, receptions in many Lawn rooms and pavilions, and the reading of the class poem—a lighthearted recap of the semester written by the fourth-year trustees.

The lights will remain up throughout the winter holiday season, coming down after the new year.


In celebration of a decade of the Lighting of the Lawn, we asked members of the UVA community to share their holiday wishes for the University.

A Parting Gift to UVA

UVA electrician Ralph Himelrick and Portman Wills, 2002 class president

The first Lighting of the Lawn in 2001 was the last big project for retiring University electrician Ralph Himelrick, who supervised the installation of approximately 21,600 white lights along the Rotunda and pavilion columns and balcony railings. Himelrick and his crew, primarily Wayne Russell and Shawn Wells, spent two weeks stringing the lights.

Himelrick, who had rewired many of the pavilions as they were restored during his career, received a long ovation after being recognized at the first event.

“I was so pleased with all the work and with the crowd’s reaction to Ralph,” Portman Wills said the day after the lights were turned on. “I saw Ralph this morning and he was still teary-eyed.”