Monday, December 3, 2012

Lighting the Campus with Luminaries

At 7am on a December morning in 1969, a number of UNCG students gathered in front of the Elliott University Center with 2000 candles, white paper bags, soufflé cups, and a really big pile of sand. With these supplies, they started a campus tradition which continues today: the annual luminaire display.

Alumni House with luminaries
Before the project could begin, Kim Ketchum, president of the UNCG senior class of 1970, presented the idea for the display to Katherine Taylor, dean of students, and to Terry Weaver, manager of the Elliott University Center. They agreed to allow the students to proceed with the display, and ultimately, the project received the blessing of Chancellor James S. Ferguson. Chancellor Ferguson provided money to purchase the sand and candles from his discretionary fund. The white bags and soufflé cups were donated by the cafeteria.

Throughout the day, students stopped by to help assemble the luminaries. They carefully placed sand and a candle (balanced on the soufflé cup) in each bag. Ketchum and six other students used a Physical Plant vehicle to position the luminaries strategically along the campus streets. Around 6pm, students emerged from the residence halls to light the candles. As the luminaries burned, groups sang Christmas carols around the campus and gathered to drink hot cider and hot chocolate around a bonfire that burned in a metal pit. 

Ketchum recalled, “It was a success then, and it’s very gratifying that our class started a tradition that endures to this day. I think that this probably was the first large luminary display in Guilford County, and the rest of the area picked up on it.” 

Luminaries at Fountain Plaza, 1995
UNCG’s sororities and fraternities have carried on this tradition ever since, preparing the luminaries, lighting them, and cleaning up. In 2011 sustainable luminaires were introduced, which decreased prep-time and eliminated potential hazards. And, as is part of the campus tradition, when the candles burn out, students return to their studies, as Fall semester final exams loom in the immediate future.

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