More than 1,000 members of the sophomore class gathered on College Green Tuesday night for the inauguration of U-Night, a new tradition meant to celebrate class unity.
Class Board 2021 planned U-Night to provide a culmination to the sophomore year experience similar to Convocation, Hey Day, and graduation. The event featured free food, music, and raffles, as well as speeches from Provost Wendell Pritchett and Penn President Amy Gutmann. This was followed by a lantern-lighting ceremony designed to demonstrate class unity, which a number of students said was their favorite part of the event.
Many students arrived wearing free U-Night t-shirts which Class Board 2021 had distributed in the days before the event. As they entered, students were handed free lanterns and raffle tickets, and many flocked immediately to enter tickets for prizes such as Apple AirPods and Beats headphones. Before the formal programming began, students walked around College Green in small groups of friends, enjoying burgers and macaroni or taking pictures in a photo booth.
Several students initially said they were drawn to the event's free food.
"We love every opportunity we can get for free food," College sophomore Jessica Anderson said.
"We just came for free food," College sophomore Julia Schwartz added. "We'll see what the rest entails."
After about half an hour, Class Board 2021 President and College and Wharton sophomore Lizzie Youshaei urged students to gather around a stage set up in front of College Hall. In her opening remarks, Youshaei encouraged sophomores to make the most of their time at Penn.
“The last time we stood here was Convocation, and the next time we stand here will be Hey Day,” she said. “Time moves quickly, so let’s make every single moment count.”
Gutmann recalled that at Convocation, she asked members of the Class of 2021 to take selfies with people they did not know. At U-Night, she asked students to take selfies with people they did know but to leave space in the picture for new friends they would make over the next two years.
"Just as there is new room now in your selfies for new faces to come, there is so much more room for each and every one of you to grow in the next two years,” Gutmann said. “You should celebrate not only who you have become, but who you will become.”
The speeches were followed by a lantern-lighting ceremony to demonstrate class unity. Class Board members alternated reading a series of questions asking students to turn on their lanterns for symbolic milestones, such as “turn on the light if you’ve met a professor that you look up to,” “turn on your light if you’ve joined a student group that has pushed you out of your comfort zone,” or “turn on your light if you’ve been to Wawa after 2 a.m.”
Some questions touched on issues of vulnerability and personal growth.
“Turn on your light if you’ve struggled to find a community during your time at Penn,” a Class Board member said.
“Turn on your light if you’re proud of how you’ve grown in the past two years,” another added.
“I really liked the part when they were asking about vulnerabilities,” Engineering sophomore Meghana Iyer said. “I think that’s very important to understand that everybody is vulnerable and everybody needs help occasionally”
At the end of the ceremony, a Class Board member called on students to “turn on your light if you are officially a junior,” prompting cheers from the audience.
Many students said the lantern-lighting ceremony was their favorite part of the event.
“I think we were all kind of scattered at first, but then when we all came and we started lighting stuff and cheering with our schools and figuring out where we connected, it was really cute,” Nursing sophomore Stephanie Acquaye said.
“It’s a really cute tradition, [and] it’s fun that we get to be part of the first class to do it,” College sophomore Kelli Jackson said. “I think seeing the [questions] where everyone’s [lantern] was lit up was pretty cool.”
Class Board members said the event, which was attended by over a thousand sophomores, surpassed expectations. Class Board College Co-chair and College and Wharton sophomore Daniel Gordon said he hopes the event will grow in the future and become a major Penn tradition like Hey Day.
“When I saw the line wrapping all the way around Penn Commons, I could not believe the type of energy surrounding this event,” Youshaei said. “It just made me smile to see everyone back together. I haven’t seen the class like that since NSO.”