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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Events May 8, 2020

Lights in the Dark

An image from an Illumination Night past

Even 25 years later, Michelle Stahl AC ’95 still remembers her entire Commencement weekend as being “magical.” One event, in particular, stands out in her memory: Illumination Night, when the Smith campus shimmers in the soft glow of hundreds of colored-paper lanterns and thousands of reuning Smithies, excited seniors and proud parents saunter in the (sometimes) clear, balmy evening. Stahl speaks for many Smithies when she says it was so enchanting it “took my breath away.”

In March, when Stahl learned that Smith’s on-campus Commencement and Reunion celebrations would be canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, her heart went out, in particular, to graduating seniors who would not experience some of the college’s most beloved—and beautiful—traditions. But an idea came to her that she impulsively posted to the Smith alumnae Facebook page: Why not create a virtual Global Illumination Night? Smithies could post images of lights—any type of light—to social media on May 16, the original date for Illumination, in support of the class of 2020. Stahl’s hope was that in lieu of an on-campus experience Global Illumination Night would serve to welcome the class of 2020 to the worldwide ranks of alumnae and acknowledge their incredible accomplishments.

Stahl’s post received 800 likes and caught the attention of Denise Wingate Materre ’74, vice president for alumnae relations, who shared it with President Kathleen McCartney. “What a fabulous way to keep this Ivy Day tradition alive to brighten—literally—this special day,” President McCartney later commented. Materre, who thought Global Illumination Night was a great way for alumnae to not only honor the class of 2020 but also engage with one another as quarantines continue, offered to promote the idea to reach as many alumnae as possible.

Eventually, Stahl, who is executive director of The Monadnock Center for History and Culture in Peterborough, New Hampshire, would love to see some sort of permanent documentation of the social media event kept in the Smith archives to serve as an example of Smithies’ creativity and resilience in the face of adversity.

“I like the symbolism of lanterns of light in the darkness,” Stahl says. “Smith changed my life, and I know it’s changed the lives of thousands of people and thousands of women. The lanterns are a reminder that Smith is a part of all of us.”