By Rachel Cywinski
LOGOS STAFF WRITER
The 27th annual “Light the Way” was moved indoors to celebrate “Christmas around the world” the Saturday before Thanksgiving but thousands still came.
Inclement weather forced the pre-Christmas celebration to move to Alice P. McDermott Convocation Center where it had previously been held many years before moving to Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium.
The convocation center has a capacity of 2,000; the stadium sits 6,000 – but an estimated 7,000 including those standing outside the stadium had attended the celebration in recent years.
This year’s theme celebrated “the international diversity of our campus,” said Margaret Garcia, UIW’s associate director of public relations. She said Nov. 23 was the first time a change had been made to the annual event due to weather in recent years. So news went out Friday, Nov. 22, to remind those who couldn’t get in that the celebration would be streamed online.
For those who could get in, the convocation center was packed. Two rows of seats farthest from the stage were designated seating for people with disabilities.
Doors opened 45 minutes before the event. Among those who braved the steadily falling light rain in temperatures hovering around 40 degrees was Tatiana Saenz, a freshman from Weslaco majoring in pre-pharmacy chemistry.
Saenz, who was attending for the first time, said, “I was very excited. I’ve heard a lot of good things about (“Light the Way”). It would have been worth it to wait in the rain, but we came right in when we got here at 6:45.”
Desmond Ndikum, a junior philosophy and pastoral ministry major from Dallas, said, “It’s like a family moment — a diverse family. Black families, Hispanic, Asian families. The event embodies what UIW is all about — a diverse family. I feel good being here. It’s cold outside but it makes you feel warm.”
“It’s a great event for the university,” said Assistant Athletics Director Rick Smith, who served as the official escort for the Cardinal mascot, “Red,” for the evening. “It’s a long tradition. One of the longest we have. And I’m glad Athletics can be part of it.”
Plastic candy canes balancing plastic world globes, wreaths, poinsettias, The Nutcracker ballet-themed decorations, and a “Light the Way” banner with fruiting nopales set the stage for the international-themed celebration.
KSAT 12 television news anchors Steve Spriester and Isis Romero, who officiated the Light the Way ceremony, began by asking UIW students with various native languages to greet the audience. Students from more than 40 countries also carried their national flags through the crowd.
Sister Yolanda Tarango, congregation coordinator for the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, led the audience in prayer, thanking God for coming to earth in flesh as Jesus.
Dr. Louis J. Agnese Jr., UIW’s president and founder of “Light the Way,” donned in a Cardinals running outfit, presented official recognitions, pointing out that “Light the Way” marks the beginning of the holiday season in San Antonio.
“There are over a million lights,” Agnese said. “If you don’t believe that, you can go count them.”
UIW graduate Dione Bedell, coordinator of admissions and guidance for UIW Prep online high school, sang the national anthem. Bedell, who graduated in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in business information systems, said she had donated to the “Light the Way” Elf Louise toy collection every year but had never attended.
“Believe it or not, this will be my first time attending ‘Light the Way,’ ” she said. “Every year there has been something to prevent me from attending. I am very excited and sincerely honored to be a part of such a wonderful event. I’ve sung the national anthem at a few other campus openings and ceremonies on campus, but this is definitely the largest event. The Christmas lights are great, but it means so much more. UIW is true to God, our country and supportive of our military. It is a constant reminder of where we have been and where we are going.
“This is a huge event for the University for numerous reasons, and it gives those who might not normally visit the main campus an opportunity to do so,” she added. “So much time, effort and preparation goes into making this a special event for all. It’s an opportunity to unify the community through the spirit of Christmas. UIW’s mission is about excellence in education, the appreciation of diverse backgrounds, social justice, and community service. ‘Light the Way’ is a culmination of all the mission exemplifies.”
The event featured performances from UIW’s Chorale; Incarnate Word High School Madrigals; choirs from St. Peter Prince of the Apostles and St. Anthony elementary schools; the jazz band of St. Anthony’s High School with Sarah Centeno; UIW Brainpower Dance Team; UIW Institute of World Cultures Lion Dance Team; UIW Cardinal Marching Band and Spirit Team; and Tejano star Patsy Torres.
Torres last year graduated as Dr. Patricia Lucero after completing her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from UIW.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 10 years. Dr. Agnese,” Torres said, that she’s performed annually at “Light the Way.”
“I can’t say enough. I thank God every day that I got my degree at the University of the Incarnate Word, and I thank you for that. I have grown spiritually. It’s my privilege to share that gift. We come together to celebrate God’s great gift to us: His only begotten son, Jesus Christ, our Savior. We’re celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.”
Then Torres danced through the audience, motioning for selected audience members to dance and sing with her.
Spriester introduced “Santa and Mrs. Claus” courtesy of corporate sponsor Jon Wayne Heating & Air Conditioning. After the concert, attendees streamed outdoors to witness Agnese throw a switch to symbolically light the night. Workers simultaneously turned on lights dangling from trees all over campus.
Agnese’s signal started the annual fireworks finale which was sponsored this year by Tobin Lofts. The University Mission and Ministry Advent Nativity scene which had been set up for the fifth annual live portrayal of the baby Jesus, his mother Mary, Joseph and visitors to the baby Jesus, stood empty due to the ongoing drizzle.
The ceremony location was not the only adjustment due to inclement weather. In recent years, mariachi musicians led candle-carrying attendees from the fireworks finale across the San Antonio River through campus to the parking lot of the adjacent Central Market. This year’s plan for Mariachi Las Cornelas to lead participants by candlelight to Dubuis Lawn was changed. All attendees were given one-time-use light bands rather than candles. Cocoa and cookies were given away by corporate sponsors Sodexo and H-E-B in the parking lot opposite Ann Barshop Natatorium.
Another change involved the cancellation of the annual Light the Way Mass. The Rev. Dr. Thomas Dymowski, university chaplain, said there would be no Mass because neither he nor another priest were available. Dymowski was attending the ordination and Mass of Thanksgiving for Father James Mark Adame, who has been University Mission and Ministry’s assistant chaplain, at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Victoria, Texas.
Kayla Rice, special events coordinator for the Office of Public Relations, said, the “Christmas Around the World” theme was brought out by the “73 countries represented this year on campus, We want to showcase our diversity and highlight the exciting opportunities we have for all students.
“ ‘Light the Way’ was started 27 years ago by Dr. Agnese,” Rice added. “During the interview process for the position of president of UIW, Dr. Agnese was taken through the Windcrest neighborhood by the Sisters to see the fantastic light decorations they had. He thought with UIW being such a beautiful campus and having so many trees, we could do the same thing and invite everyone to campus to enjoy. It has continued to grow ever since.”