It has been a difficult year at the University of Virginia, to say the least. The community of trust and honor on which the University was founded has continued to be shaken and rattled -- so much so that I've felt like a really chubby hamster, constantly being taunted by everyone watching my attempt to get back on the wheel.
Every time I opened my laptop's internet browser this year, there would almost always be a new article floating around the world wide web which depicted the University of Virginia in a light that showcased us as an institution destined for the delinquent and delirious, and not the #2 Best Public University in the United States.
Events ranging from a murdered class-mate, an alleged and discredited claim from a Rolling Stone article describing a fraternity gang-rape, and the ABC brutalization of Martese Johnson, a member of the University's prestigious Honor committee, have been just some of the experiences continuing to take prevalence in the lives of many U.Va. faculty, students, and members of the Charlottesville community.
The events that have occurred over the last year at Mr. Jefferson's university bring up serious issues that must be addressed with a firm hand -- not only at U.Va., but at universities across the nation.
Failing to acknowledge that the University of Virginia is not a perfect place, exempt from violence, crime and social inequality, would be absolutely foolish. Many of my peers and friends have demonstrated their ability to effect social change on a level akin to the "gladiators" depicted in Scandal. However, at times it becomes taxing on even the strongest of us.
This dedication to strength and change through action can be observed through a tradition here at U.Va. called the "Lighting of the Lawn," which came to fruition as a response of solidarity to the awful acts of violence that took place on September 11th, 2001. The Lighting of the Lawn was quite symbolic for me this year because the Rotunda, designed by Thomas Jefferson to represent authority of nature and power of reason, is under intense renovation -- similar to the emotional state of our university.
The night aimed to take a look back at how the year had progressed at U.Va. -- acknowledging the different events that had taken place, and to build camaraderie that would strengthen the community as a whole through different musical performances and readings. With every performance that occurred that night, I could see sparks starting to ignite in the eyes of my community. I saw a spirit of renewal come across the audience which made truly me believe in the power of performance.
Throughout the evening, there was still one question that plagued everyone's mind -- "Will the Rotunda still light even though its chained by scaffolding?" Being a Drama major, if there is anything that I have learned, it is that the show must always go on.
The night was coming to end, and to be honest -- I hadn't seen this many smiles at the University since last year's Foxfield races. The night was ending, and the time had finally come -- the lights started to travel up and down the range of the Lawn bringing life to the different Pavilions surrounding us, but still -- no lit Rotunda.
Sadly, I started to join in with my peers and give up hope that the lights were simply not going to happen this year. Just as this thought occurred, a small wave of light went across the columns of the Rotunda -- in that moment, I thought I was going to go deaf from the amount of ensuing yells that were infused with hope and cemented in solidarity.
Given the amount of pressures experienced by students enrolled in universities today, it is unequivocally imperative that performances like the Lighting of the Lawn be utilized and prioritized as an aesthetic form of cathartic release. The spiritual, social and psychological benefit of performance on campuses perpetuates inner peace, and creates a purifying passion. It serves as a societal reminder that corporeal actions will work to intrinsically delineate and define our future generations.
Although the University of Virginia has gone through so much darkness this year -- we have to remember that in times of doubt and despair; we must come together as a community and strive to do better through notable action, to hold each other accountable, and to not be afraid to reach out to someone and say, "Your actions matter, your life matters, and you matter."
To quote Albus Dumbledore, "Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light."
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