UVA traditions in the making
The UVA student experience is ever-changing, even in a place so steeped in tradition. Today’s ’Hoos still sing “The Good Old Song” with each touchdown and line up for the pomp of Final Exercises. But in recent decades, they’ve built community with new traditions, too. Here are some of the newer events and activities at UVA that make up part of its tradition of community.
Black Alumni Weekend
Black Alumni Weekend started, in part, because Michael Mallory (Educ ’80, ’86) needed a little help. In 1986, he was serving a one-year appointment in UVA’s admissions office, working to recruit more Black students to UVA. To do that, Mallory knew he needed to connect with Black alumni. But he also knew that the benefits of gathering Black alumni on Grounds extended far beyond recruitment possibilities. It could reconnect them with the University, resulting in more Black alumni speaking at classes, becoming professors, being appointed to the Board of Visitors, and networking with alumni and current students.
The goal, Mallory says, has always been to enrich the University community. “We just want individually to be stronger and our networks to be stronger, and our networks are white, Black and everything,” he says.
The first Black Alumni Weekend, which Mallory organized with Glynn Key (Col ’86, Law ’89) and others, was held in spring 1987 and drew 350 alumni to events that honored UVA’s first Black graduates. In 2022, 1,200 flocked to UVA for the every-other-year spring event that features on-Grounds activities, including performances from Black student groups, and separate events organized by alumni groups across Charlottesville.
Recruiting Black students isn’t as much of a goal for the event as it was in the beginning. But recent alumni say it had an enormous impact on them as students.
Joshua Franklin (Engr ’22) first attended Black Alumni Weekend in 2017 as a high school student still considering his college options. That weekend, he says, was a powerful experience. “I went to a predominantly white high school in Virginia, and I’ve never been really in a space with that many college-educated Black people before,” remembers Franklin, whose father also attended UVA.
Black Alumni Weekend was “huge” for him as a student, he says. “It was a whole networking thing that you go to meet people from all different walks of life and just absorb all of that information and put that toward your degree at UVA.”
Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn
Meg Graham Keeley (Col ’88, Med ’92), now senior associate dean for education at UVA’s School of Medicine, has witnessed the evolution of trick-or-treating on the Lawn from its earliest days. The annual candy-centered tradition might have started the year before Keeley lived on the Lawn as a small, informal activity, she says.
Once she had a Lawn room of her own, in 1987, she remembers Lawn residents getting a heads-up that some kids might show up for candy. But that year—while trick-or-treating might have been informal—it wasn’t small.
“It became kind of clear to us pretty quickly that there was more than we expected,” Keeley says. “I do remember several of us running over to the Corner to buy some more bags of candy.”
Today, a trip to the Corner for candy isn’t sufficient. It can cost hundreds of dollars to supply a single Lawn room with enough candy for the evening. Lawn residents partner with student groups on candy, and the Seven Society donates some.
But for Maeve Curtin (Col ’18, Batten ’19) and other recent alumni, memories aren’t just made while handing out candy. On Halloween during her first year, after finishing a paper, she walked over to the Lawn and remembers its stunning fall colors and a “beautiful sea of people,” representing a broad swath of the Charlottesville community.
“What was really important about that experience was that community and being able to push that paper aside and go,” she says. “I couldn’t help myself from smiling.”
The Cavalier Daily wasn’t so sure the Cavalier mascot would last long when he debuted on the field at the launch of the 1984 season. “The Defunct Cavalier,” the newspaper dubbed him in a caption, dooming him to the fate of the ’Hoo, the furry orange mascot that appeared—and quickly disappeared—a year earlier.
But the Cavalier stuck around, perhaps helped by the fact that, unlike the furry ’Hoo, he was not entirely new to UVA fans. The nickname dates to the 1920s when Lawrence Haywood Lee Jr. (Col 1924) penned “The Cavalier Song,” winning a contest run by Cavalier Daily precursor College Topics for UVA’s best fight song. Over the years, students dressed as Cavaliers had ridden into Scott Stadium on horseback.
As a costumed mascot, the Cavalier changed his look over time, and in 2000, he earned a new nickname—Cavman, says Todd Goodale (Col ’94), former senior associate athletics director. That year, Goodale and Erik Elvgren, a producer and animator in the athletics department, launched “Adventures of Cavman,” an animated series that featured the mascot vanquishing the mascots of rival teams. The clips stirred up fan excitement just before the football team ran out onto the field.
Why Cavman? “We came up with it as kind of the moniker of a superhero,” Goodale says. “Instead of Superman, he was Cavman. He looked like a superhero. He behaved like a superhero. So, we thought, that name should be with the mascot too.”
Today, a more-buff Cavman, with a physique befitting a superhero, is more popular than he’s ever been. A secret rotation of four or five students, revealed only after they graduate, travel around the country to appear at sporting events and even alumni weddings.
“He’s seen more now than he was 20 years ago,” says Kelley Haney, head coach of UVA’s spirit teams, which includes Cavman.
As spots like Trax closed in the early 2000s, a new kind of live music experience cropped up at UVA—house concerts, organized by a student group that launched in 2002, says Veronica Merril (Arch ’21), a former leader.
Today the group, first called Oluponya Records and now University Records, draws hundreds of students to its regular schedule of concerts featuring student performers—from ticketed raves with student DJs and concerts featuring rock, punk and indie bands at off-Grounds homes to free acoustic performances inside the UVA Chapel. It also supports student performers through practice space, recording support and connections to other gigs.
University Records holds about 12 events each semester, all alternatives to longtime traditional late-night UVA activities, says Kennedy Harder (Col ’25), a second-year studio art major and University Records co-president. “So many people love coming to the shows because it’s an alternative from going to a bar and it’s an alternative from going to a frat.”
Lighting of the Lawn
For house concert leader Merril, not much was normal about her fourth year, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She lived on the Lawn, but community events were on hiatus, making that year’s Lighting of the Lawn even more poignant.
Held in early December, Lighting of the Lawn looks like a holiday celebration. Thousands turn out for the event, which features performances, the reading of a poem, and the Rotunda and Lawn decorated in lights.
But the event was launched in 2001 as a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “We were just thinking about how to bring the community together in a positive way to wrap up the semester,” says Mary Elizabeth Luzar (Col ’02, Educ ’09), who was among the Class of 2002 trustees who organized the first lighting. Luzar, who is now senior director of student engagement for UVA’s Alumni Association, has been involved in the event’s organization nearly every year since.
The real intention, alumni and students say, is shining light in the darkness—whether it’s the stress of exams or tragedy, such as 9/11 or November’s shooting that left three students dead and two injured.
In December 2020, it was the pandemic, forcing Lighting of the Lawn online. But Merril had the benefit of proximity. Around 4 a.m. one morning, Merril and some of her neighbors stepped out of their Lawn rooms to watch the lights as they were filmed to be shared virtually.
Merril remembers it being dark, with whispers bouncing off the colonnades. “It felt like, one day, the people will be back, and the students will be back. And we’re here witnessing it, so that we can bear witness to the hope of the future.”
The origins of Rotunda Sing are murky. But according to the memory of Chris Walker (Col ’91), a founding member of the Hullabahoos, and the consensus of his a cappella friends, the first Rotunda Sing took place in fall 1989. At the time—and to this day—UVA’s a cappella groups would gather in late summer to prepare songs for the coming semester. The plan, Walker remembers, was for groups to sing a few new selections outside the Rotunda as another academic year began.
“It was more just for us to all kind of get our groups off the ground at the beginning of each semester,” Walker says.
Today Rotunda Sing is dubbed “UVA’s largest outdoor a cappella showcase,” kicking off each fall semester. The evening show is a don’t-miss event for first-years and a cappella-loving upperclassmen. It’s also a prime recruitment opportunity for UVA’s more than a dozen a cappella groups. Typically held just a few days before auditions, Rotunda Sing is an opportunity for groups to show off their talent and distinctive personalities.
“I didn’t know I wanted to be involved in a cappella when I came to UVA,” says Lydia Colwell (Col ’23), a fourth-year art history and global education major and president of the Virginia Sil’hooettes. Then she heard the Sil’hooettes perform during her first Rotunda Sing. “I remember going with my suitemates and listening to the Sils perform and just knowing that I did really want to be a part of it,” she says.