The Pitt News

Lighting the way: Pitt women celebrate 95th Lantern Night

Photo%3A+Nikki+Moriello+%2F+Visual+Editor
Photo: Nikki Moriello / Visual Editor

Photo: Nikki Moriello / Visual Editor

Photo: Nikki Moriello / Visual Editor

By Jessie Wallace and Lauren Rosenblatt / The Pitt News

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In 1920, Pitt held its first Lantern Night in an Oakland home hoping to instill pride in female students and offset the savagery of college men. Now, 95 years later, walls can’t contain number of Pitt women reaching out to raise one other up.

Lantern Night welcomes female first-year freshmen or first-year transfer students to the University by passing along the “light of learning” through a symbolic lantern. Flame-bearers, Pitt alumni who now have a daughter, granddaughter or sibling attending the University, light the lanterns as the students walk up the aisle of Heinz Chapel.

For the first time in its history, Lantern Night took place outside the Heinz Chapel, candlelight mixing with starlight. As more and more women are able to attend college, the event has become too big to fit both alumni and students inside Heinz Chapel together. Laraine Hlatky, associate director of External Relations and Alumni Programs, said about 800 students 40 flame-bearers came to light the hundreds of candles.

Before the candle-lighting, keynote speaker Valerie Thomas-Nije encouraged students to think about the women lighting their candles and their accomplishments, the “cracks they had created in the proverbial glass ceiling” and student’s ability to finally shatter it.

“Understand what the woman before you have done … carry it confidently knowing you will be a part of it,” said Thomas-Nije, the recipient of the Volunteer Excellence Award from Pitt’s Alumni Association.

As an organist played Pitt’s alma mater, Lois Yoedt serenely lit two tea candles for her two granddaughters — two more cracks in the proverbial glass ceiling.

“When they stopped in front of me, I said, ‘This is the light of learning. Welcome to Pitt. Good luck,’” Yoedt, a 1956 Pitt graduate, said.

Yoedt earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Pitt, but hadn’t been back on campus for many years. On Sunday night, she returned to honor her twin granddaughters transferring to Pitt for their junior year.

“The first lantern night was held in a small house,” Yoedt said with a laugh. “It’s wonderful all these beautiful young women get to experience this tradition.”

As the candles were lit, daughters and granddaughters of proud Panther alumae exchanged “I love you’s” and friendly nods of approval when they met in the aisle.

For flame-bearer Elizabeth Wells, who had already been inside when the girls filed to their seats, the surprise of seeing so many girls made the moment even more touching.

“They just kept coming. I looked at each of them, saw all of their faces,” Wells said. “All the girls seemed really engaged.”

The moment of stepping out of the Chapel with her lit lantern, moved Maddie, Wells’ daughter, a pre-rehabilitation science major who enjoyed seeing the other students light up the cathedrals grounds.

“I don’t remember a lot of mine, so it was great to relive it with my daughter,” Wells said.

Both mother and daughter Elizabeth and Maddie said they are eagerly waiting until Maddie’s younger sister reaches college age. They hope she decides to come to Pitt, where she will be able to participate in the 100th anniversary of Lantern Night.

Thomas-Nije said her Pitt experience was “fabulous,” and hopes the Lantern Night will be the start of a fabulous experience for the new students.

“The world needs your brilliance, but nurture it for yourself,” Thomas-Nije said in her speech. “I can’t wait to hear about the wonderful things you will do and the women you will be.”

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Lighting the way: Pitt women celebrate 95th Lantern Night