All eyes will be on Old Kenyon Saturday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. when—as the bell peals 19 times in honor of Kenyon’s 19th president—light will pour out from the building’s front-facing windows, illuminating the south end of Middle Path for the first time in a decade.
The illumination is designed as a formal greeting for Sean Decatur, who will be ushered into the College community during a noon inauguration ceremony at the Kenyon Athletic Center. It is a tradition that dates back 180 years to July 24, 1833, when Kenyon welcomed its second president, Charles Pettit McIlvaine, the second Episcopal bishop of Ohio.
“We take tradition seriously at Kenyon,” said Scott Baker ’94, Kenyon’s director of alumni and parent programs and organizer of this year’s illumination. “The Kenyon community—on and off campus—rallies for a particular moment in time, and this is a moment deserving of celebration.”
The College has been illuminating Old Kenyon to commemorate special occasions for nearly two centuries, but the tradition has evolved throughout history. According to College Historian Tom Stamp ’73, candles and oil lamps were burned in open windows until 1921 when electricity was installed in the residence halls. Illuminations also used to occur more frequently, celebrating everything from distinguished campus visitors like U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes, a Kenyon graduate, to major football victories, particularly over Ohio State.
“The early illuminations would have been striking when Kenyon was still surrounded by wilderness because there were no lights on campus,” Stamp said. “To see a building of Old Kenyon’s size all lit up then would have been really amazing.”
For Decatur’s inauguration, Old Kenyon will be illuminated by 80 lights that will shine out of the rooms and onto the building’s exterior and spires. New technology is being introduced in the form of radio-controlled, battery-powered light packs from Vincent Lighting Systems that will eliminate the need for wires and LED lights that will use less energy.
Bryce Behar ’14 of Great Neck, New York, is joining fellow Old Kenyon residents to help make gels for display in the windows that will spell out a message for Decatur. He also is passing out fliers on the illumination’s history. “Being a part of the illumination is even more meaningful when you understand the tradition and what it means to Kenyon and President Decatur,” he said.
The illumination, which is planned until 11 p.m., coincides with an all-campus celebration in Peirce Hall. As the gala progresses, the lights on Old Kenyon will change colors and patterns for what Baker promises to be a “spectacular result.”
“When we say we warmly embrace people in the Kenyon community,” he said, “we’re not kidding.”