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In case ya missed it: Bicentennial Celebration

Oct. 6 marked 200 years since the laying of the cornerstone at the University of Virginia. To celebrate this milestone, the University put on a large-scale celebration for alumni and students alike at the Lawn. The night began a few minutes earlier than scheduled with a performance by the Monacan Bear Mountain Dancers and a speech by Karenne Wood, Director of Virginia Indian Programs at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Wood kicked off the festivities with the remark, “Only the earth remembers everything. Let it remember us in a good way.” Following these dancers, groups like Usingers, Jazz Ensemble, and Marching Band filed onto the stage to perform, trying to do just that.

But beyond the cute Snapchat stories, captioned “Happy Birthday UVA” and stellar performances from stars like Leslie Odom Jr, Andra Day, and the Goo Goo Dolls, the festivities on Friday showed the long and complicated timeline of the university, as well as how unfortunately often the institution has ended up on the wrong side of history.

Beginning with Jefferson’s conception of UVA, and the subsequent use of slave labor to build the Academic Village, to the final admittance of women into the University as late as 1970, the bicentennial showed how far the University has come and how far we still have to go as a place of learning and community. These scenes were interspersed with guest speakers that included ancestors of slaves from Monticello, Montpelier, and the University of Virginia. They told both harrowing stories about the cruelty that their ancestors endured from their captors and hopeful narratives about the exceptional accomplishments of members of these families after they had been freed. These achievements ranged from settling down on a plot of land and cultivating a thriving farm to becoming lawyers and doctors. Katy Couric and some of the University’s first female graduates also made an appearance on stage, with Couric reminding the audience that even though women were only very recently allowed to attend the undergraduate university, that females now make up over half of the student body.

Much of the history told during the show was portrayed through the use of projections onto the Rotunda. These scenes brought the story of UVA alive and engaged the audience, who can now say that they have seen the Rotunda decked out in the psychedelic visions of the 1960s and covered in anti-war posters of the 1970s. The audience was captivated by these scenes, with two girls in front of me even screaming “Yes, this is it!” and whipping out their phones when flames from the fire of 1895 engulfed the Rotunda.

Aside from being visually appealing, the projections brought back to mind old stories like that of the meaning behind the Aviator statue that stands outside of Clemons Library. A depiction of James McConnell, a UVA attendee who fought and died in World War I, weaving between the columns of the Rotunda flashed before everyone’s eyes along with the story of his heroism, breathing new life into a well-known story on Grounds.

Directors of the event did not just rely on projections to tell the University’s story though. The larger than life character of Edgar Allan Poe made a brief appearance on stage as the first few lines of The Raven were read, manipulated from beneath by puppeteers, or poepeteers, if you will.

Festivities closed out in style with a laser show, set to the tune of “Livin’ On a Prayer” by Bon Jovi. As 20,000 people shuffled off of the Lawn and the third century began, I wondered what would close out the tricentennial celebration. Probably something by North West’s great grandchild.

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Emily Vaughan is a first-year who has successfully completed the cinnamon challenge.