Hands warmed by gloves hold a burning candle— a single flame among hundreds. A voice begins and instantly, students join in the chorus as the melody of “Carmen Ohio” is heard across Ohio State’s campus, dissipating into the cold December air. With the flick of a switch, the darkness is overcome by strings of colorful bulbs that illuminate what many consider to be one of campus’s treasures — Mirror Lake.
Even after a decade, this moment of lighting up the lake is still just as magical, said Ohio Staters Inc. co-chair Alex Biddle.
The annual Ohio Staters event “Light Up the Lake” is set to lighten Mirror Lake on Thursday for the 10th time. In recognition of the 10th time the lake has been light, participants should anticipate a surprise, said Biddle, a fourth-year in international studies and Spanish.
“We have a surprise light fixture. I’m not going to give it away. I want to keep it a surprise,” Biddle said.
Ohio Staters is a service organization composed of 50 students, faculty and staff that aims to enhance OSU through projects that promote welfare or traditions of the university, according to its website.
“We do anything from putting pencil sharpeners in all the classrooms to big events like Light Up the Lake,” Biddle said.
Light Up the Lake has technically been an OSU tradition for 13 years, but because of circumstantial reasons, the lake has been lit up 10 times since the tradition began, said Ohio Staters co-chair Ellen Tan, a fourth-year in neuroscience. An OSU study to explore Mirror Lake’s sustainability — which was done as part of several projects across campus to reduce the university’s environmental impact — prevented Ohio Staters from hanging lights for the 2013 ceremony.
Tan said it is important that the tradition be reignited this year.
“During the winter months, it can be really gloomy outside. For me, seeing the lights, it just brightens my spirit,” Tan said. “I think that’s really important to foster for the students on campus.”
As of Tuesday evening, about 2,400 people had responded to the Ohio Staters Facebook event invitation saying they would attend.
This year’s ceremony is set to begin with performances by OSU’s student-led dance organization 3D Urban Dance Team, student baton twirling organization Buckeye Twirl, all male a cappella group Buck That!, and student musical theatre group Off the Lake Productions. Ohio Staters members will also be present to hand out free hot chocolate, coffee and snacks to those in attendance.
Founding member of Buckeye Twirl Anna Lendl, a fourth-year in biology, said the Buckeye Twirl performance will align with the Light Up the Lake theme of illumination.
“We tape glow sticks to the end of our batons. You don’t really even see the twirlers, but it kind of is this really cool light show,” she said. “You just see glow sticks being spun everywhere and it’s to holiday music.”
The Buckeye Twirl performance will last for 7-10 minutes, and 14 BuckeyeTwirl members will perform for the event, Lendl said.
Light Up the Lake is considered a university “signature event,” Biddle said. This year, Ohio Staters has received increased signature event funding from the university, which will help the organization celebrate the tradition’s 10th year bigger and better, Biddle said.
Signature events receive supplemental funding because they are known as some of OSU’s largest and most well-known and attended campus events, according to the Ohio Union website. The funding is provided by roughly 7 percent of the student activity fee, the website said.
“Now that we’re a signature event, we have more funding to provide, more hot chocolate and coffee for the people that are coming so it kind of helps us accommodate for more people, which is really exciting,” Biddle said.
The majority of Ohio Staters funding for events like Light Up the Lake is obtained through seat cushion sales before home football games, Biddle said. Biddle could not provide the exact cost required to fully light Mirror Lake.
“I don’t really have a good idea because we’ve re-used lights from past years. We just keep adding to our collection,” she said.
Ohio Staters members spent more than two hours Sunday hanging lights at Mirror Lake with the help of OSU Facilities Operations and Development, which uses a cherry picker to embellish tree tops that Ohio Staters members cannot reach on their own.
Lendl said she appreciates that Light Up the Lake is an event put on by students.
“It’s a nice reminder that we’re a community that cares about people. It’s a nice reminder around the holidays,” she said. “It’s students celebrating students.”
But Tan said the ceremony is not solely a holiday event.
“It’s a winter celebration so it doesn’t really matter what you believe in. It’s a way to get students together,” Tan said.
“Tradition is something that brings people together. It’s something that the university looks forward to and also, brings the community together,” Biddle said. “The reason we do it is to help make campus feel more like home during the cold winter months.”
Taylor Ourada, a fourth-year in chemical engineering, said her experience at past Light Up the Lake events has been special to her time at OSU.
“You can feel the tradition in the moment as so many students celebrate their love for Ohio State and the friendships they’ve created here,” Ourada said in an email. “I’ve always been with close friends at the event and it makes it a truly a remarkable night to share it with them.”
Samantha Francesconi, a fourth-year in nutrition and community health, agreed.
“It was just another thing that I could add to my list of traditions at the university,” she said. “When everyone got the candles to hold around the lake and we sang ‘Carmen Ohio,’ it was really special.”
Ourada concurred that the singing of “Carmen Ohio” to the illumination of Mirror Lake was an experience she would not forget.
“Singing ‘Carmen’ around the lake with everyone’s candles flickering is truly an incredible moment,” Ourada said. “That moment definitely makes you feel (like) a part of something much bigger.”
Light Up the Lake is set to be held Thursday at 6 p.m. around OSU’s Mirror Lake and Browning Amphitheater. The event is free to the public.