Every year when the temperatures start to dwindle, the leaves discard their beautiful spectrum of sunset shades, and the noise of chirping birds begins to fade, my heart sinks a little. But it’s the Sunday when I have to turn back my clock that I despise more than anything else.
As I walk out of my 4:10 p.m. class and see that the sun has already retired and darkness has entered campus uninvited, all motivation to head to Butler disappears. Meanwhile, the dull, industrial street lights that line Columbia’s walkways prove an inferior replacement for the warm, morning star.
On my evening journey from the International Affairs Building to the Barnard Quad, I pass by a blur of faces that I cannot distinguish in the dark. Students quickly shuffle like fleeting ghosts in search of shelter from the cold, gloomy night. Their hoods are up and their heads point down, either at the leaves beneath them or at a glaring screen partially illuminating their faces. After a few minutes, College Walk has settled down, and all that’s left are occasional headlights whirring past on Broadway. As I approach my dorm, the campus feels much lonelier now.
On November 29, 2018, hundreds of students, prompted by free T-shirts and Krispy Kreme donuts, gathered by the Sundial to witness the 20th annual Tree Lighting Ceremony in the spirit of the holiday season. Soon after the hot chocolate was inhaled and the performances ceased, the countdown began. In a matter of seconds, Columbia’s entire atmosphere changed. Thousands of dazzling LED bulbs illuminated College Walk, shining as bright as the city itself. Even as the crowds subsided, the radiant trees provided a source of warmth amidst cold obscurity.
Now, as I lug my backpack across campus from that long class at International Affairs, the lights momentarily remove the dreariness of impending deadlines. My pace slows as I take in the wonderful scene before me. It’s 32 degrees and freezing rain is hitting my coat like daggers, but I can’t help smiling at our fluorescent display. At this moment, I don’t feel so alone.
I guess that’s what light does for us. Its most obvious purpose is to help us see. But light also provides us with a sense of togetherness. From Christianity to Hinduism, from the 4th of July to the Chinese Lantern Festival, light is a binding component of many cultures and holidays—to Columbia, it is no exception.
Columbia’s motto In Lumine Tuo Videbimus Lumen translates to “In Thy light shall we see light.” And on College Walk, we see new faces after lecture that are no longer fleeting blurs, but bright and clear under the twinkling trees. We see romance in the couples who stop to snap a picture for Instagram on Valentine’s Day. We see curious children in awe of the seemingly endless glitter. We see dogs pulling on their owners to stay in paradise just a moment more. We do not only see light in the people who surround us, but we are able to project it too.
Like that eager dog, I wish I could stay under the sparkling lights forever. But sadly, it’s nearing the end of February, and our glimmering trees will soon be packed away. Their extended stay makes the return to the shadows even more difficult. The clear, bright faces will turn into blurs once again, and the campus energy will subside. I can only hope that through each of our own lights, we can brighten campus as much as the trees do.
Enjoy leafing through our third issue!