Lantern Night: Pitt’s oldest tradition illuminates Heinz Chapel

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Lantern Night: Pitt’s oldest tradition illuminates Heinz Chapel

By Nerine Sivagnanam / Staff Writer

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Never underestimate the power of a Pitt woman and a Pitt education.

Mary Ellen Callahan, keynote speaker of Pitt’s 94th annual Lantern Night, spoke to the women of the new freshman class and advised them to always remember their value and the value of their university.

Hundreds of members of the Pitt community gathered at Heinz Chapel for the Lantern Night ceremony on Sunday, including faculty, staff, senior university leaders, students and family members. 

Julia Shepard, the Alumna Host of Lantern Night, said the ceremony is a “joint effort between alumni and students.”

The annual ceremony was instated in 1920, only days after the 19th amendment passed and granted women the right to vote. Lantern Night is Pitt’s oldest tradition

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said the ceremony marks an “initiation.”

“[Not only] to your academic career here at Pitt but also a celebration of pioneers who paved the way before you,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher experienced his first Lantern Night on Sunday, on his 24th day on the job as chancellor. 

He spoke about the growing popularity of the ceremony and noted how the Chapel could not contain the high number of people in attendance.

Those who didn’t find space in the building watched the simulcast of the ceremony on the lawn of Heinz Chapel. 

“Your lantern is a symbol of inspiration as you pursue your academic endeavors, no matter what they might be,” Shepard said. “It represents the light of learning.”

Divya Patel, a freshman majoring in pre-pharmacy, said she attended for the social aspect.

“We thought it would be a cool experience as freshmen to meet other freshmen girls,” Patel said. 

Meghan Browning, a freshman majoring in pre-pharmacy, said she did not know exactly what the tradition represents but still attended. 

“It seems like a really cool tradition and I want to be a part of it,” Browning said. 

Megan Vogt, a freshman majoring in business, said she thinks Lantern Night signifies “the passing on of education each year.” 

At the end of the ceremony, the lights were lowered and each student raised her newly lit lantern. All in attendance then filed out of Heinz Chapel and into the Cathedral of Learning for the reception. 

Many “flame bearers” — women who attended Pitt and have daughters in the class of 2018 — then rejoined with their daughters after the ceremony. 

“I’m a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and we pass the light of learning on to the next generation of young women at Pitt,” said Katherine Willey Wolfe, whose daughter, Sarah, is a member of the new freshman class at Pitt. 

Callahan left the students with powerful words. 

“You’re a student for a few years but an alum forever,” she said.

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