News | Student Life

At tree lighting ceremony, music, holiday cheer, and respect for Mandela

  • Alice Mahoney / Senior Staff Photographer
    A MILLION LITTLE LIGHTS | Students take in the holiday glow of the lighted-up College Walk trees on Thursday night.
  • Alice Mahoney / Senior Staff Photographer
    BREAK IT DOWN | HAYOO, an acoustic duo composed of John Chang, SEAS ’14, and Esther Kim, CC ’14, performs during the tree-lighting ceremony.

While students expressed holiday cheer at the annual tree lighting ceremony on Thursday night, they also remembered South African freedom fighter and former President Nelson Mandela, who passed away earlier in the day.  

Students from all four undergraduate schools gathered on Low Plaza—in one of the few times that Columbians gather as a community—to hear musical performances and speeches.

Engineering Student Council President Siddhant Bhatt, SEAS ’14, asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence for Mandela. 

Barnard Dean Avis Hinkson, BC ’84, also spoke about the passing of Mandela and “his activism, his commitment to integrity and his concern for humankind worldwide, his commitment to peace and to equity.” 

School of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Mary Boyce, in her first tree-lighting ceremony, talked about the upcoming 150th anniversary of the engineering school and the role of SEAS within the Columbia community as a whole.

“It’s clear that the future of SEAS is a central and integral part of the future of Columbia University, and the 150th celebration has given me a unique opportunity to really appreciate the strength of the collective and unified SEAS,” Boyce said.

This year’s festivities also featured the finalists in the student councils’ Roar Lion Roar Rendition Competition, in which students were asked to write their own versions of Columbia’s fight song.

Two of the three finalists performed: Ryan Hudson, GS ’17, and HAYOO, an acoustic duo composed of John Chang, SEAS ’14, and Esther Kim, CC ’14. The third finalist, the cello quintet String Theory, did not perform due to weather conditions. 

And as always, several a cappella groups—Kingsmen, CU Gospel Choir, and Barnard Bacchantae—also serenaded students.

When the time came for the lights to go on, students enthusiastically counted down from 10 and cheered as College Walk was illuminated. 

As some students snapped iPhone photos under the brilliant lights, others gathered in the cozy John Jay Lounge for the Yule Log ceremony, listening to Columbia College Dean James Valentini and School of General Studies Dean Peter Awn share holiday memories and linguistic observations.

Awn joked about his experiences in a strict Irish Catholic Brooklyn primary school and how his mother would play him Arabic music at Christmas time to counteract his school’s “cultural engineering.”

“I walked away fully content that I had experienced my first fully multicultural Christmas,” Awn said. “May you all share a Christmas with your friends who are different from you, who have different ways to celebrate.” 

Valentini’s speech emphasized the role of “light” at Columbia and the importance of community.

“The Yule Log, which is the source of heat and light for us at this time of year, is symbolic of how our desire for warmth and illumination,” Valentini said, pointing out that light was part of Columbia’s motto—“In Lumine Tuo Videbimus Lumen,” which translates to “In Thy light shall we see light.”

“Each of us are part of a family in each school, but we are part of an extended family as well,” he said.

Students said they enjoyed hearing classmates and deans share Columbia spirit with the community.

“I thought it was a very intimate setting, and I think that it was a great chance for us as seniors to be able to reflect on our time at Columbia and what it means to be happy with people you love,” Bryana Williams, CC ’14, said.  |  @y_akcaguner


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