Throughout history, light has meant many things to people, including knowledge, hope, and the divine, notes Aastha Soni ’24, vice president of major events for Bryant’s Student Alumni Association, in her opening remarks at Bryant University’s 47th annual Festival of Lights, held on December 7. It is no surprise then, she suggests, that so many faiths venerate it in the coldest and darkness of seasons — or that we choose to celebrate it together.
Organized by the Bryant University Student Alumni Association, the Office of Alumni and Parent Engagement, Campus Ministry and the Office of Student Activities, the Festival of Lights is a beloved university celebration that brings together students, alumni, faculty, staff, and their families to share traditions, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa, the Chinese Lantern Festival, and Eid, from a range of cultures and faiths. The festival, Bryant University President Ross Gittell, Ph.D., shares with this year’s attendees, is almost as old as the university’s Smithfield campus and it serves a vital role in uniting the community, especially in trying times.
“This year it is especially important to emphasize the similarities between our many religions: including spending time with loved ones, hoping and praying for peace, and sharing expressions of gratitude and hope,” he suggests.
Soni, who grew up in India, appreciates that the celebration gives everyone a space to share their culture — and to learn more about one another. Events like the festival, agrees Michael Dubois ’26, do more than celebrate the community; they help bring it together. “Even though we celebrate different religions, we all have the same love for one another,” he says. “It’s a reminder that we’re all there for another.”
“So many people over the generations have such wonderful memories of the Festival of Lights and sharing it with their friends. Those memories last, no matter how many years, and holidays, pass.”
In his invocation, Rabbi Steven Jablow notes that the festival offers a lesson in how we should live our lives all year round. “You have come to see others you may not know share a part of themselves with you. I hope that this does not end here tonight,” he says.
Adjunct Professor of Finance and member of the Alumni Engagement Emeritus Council Raymond Grigelevich '91, '00MBA, P'18, P'20MBA, P'24 has been to 35 of the 47 festivals, by his reckoning. It’s a special event, he suggests, because it provides Bryant with a moment to pause and reflect on the things that truly matter. “When the whole campus slows down to come together for this particular event, while the entire season around them is speeding up, it’s a chance to realize how our lives are a small piece of a much larger universe,” he says.
Taking part in the festival has become an annual tradition for Priscila Liptrot ’57 and her husband, Bob. Though she attended Bryant back when the school was at its former location on the East Side of Providence, sharing the Festival of Lights with the university community still feels like coming home. “It’s a wonderful reason to come back,” she says.
That’s the true holiday magic of the festival, Soni says — and why it has become such an important part of the fabric of Bryant: “So many people over the generations have such wonderful memories of the Festival of Lights and sharing it with their friends. Those memories last, no matter how many years, and holidays, pass.”
The Festival of Lights capped an entire day of holiday activities, including a festive feast in Salmanson Dining Hall, activities, competitions and crafts in the university’s Unistructure; alumni gatherings; and even a visit from Santa Claus and his wife. Below are some of the special moments from this year’s celebration: