BY KIERNAN McCARTY
PHOTOS BY LOREN McQUEENY
VIDEO BY LIZ STOECK
Last Tuesday marked the return of Fort Hays State University’s annual Tree Lighting event. This holiday ceremony has sustained its momentum against the test of the COVID-19 pandemic with last year’s drive-through event which was reported to be overly successful with the complete expenditure of goodies by the end of it. This year kept up with the turnout as the students, community members, and families of Hays gathered to reinvigorate the spirit of togetherness for the holiday season.
The Dickens Carolers made an appearance outside of Sheridan Hall to sing multiple Christmas carols before the lighting of the tree. As much as everyone looks forward to the cookies, hot chocolate, horse-drawn sleigh rides and Santa Clause every year, the human connection and support was definitely one of the most important aspects of the Tree Lighting ceremony.
“I enjoy the Christmas spirit and lots of festivities and my roommate wanted to come, some of my other friends too, so we all came together,” said Sadie Schmanke, a freshman student at Fort Hays.
Particularly after coming out of the last several years of dealing with loss and isolation, people were appreciating the opportunity to meet and interact with new and old friends more than ever.
Another sophomore student, who came with a close friend, said that this was her first tree lighting ceremony she’s attended and that the best part was the people and the community.
For others, the tree lighting ceremony is a tradition they look forward to every year. Another anonymous freshman student said, “there’s always been a tree lighting ceremony where I’m from so coming to see it here was just kind of a nice tradition, you know?”
Student Engagement reported that the event went well and that the turnout was more than expected, so it’s safe to say that this year’s holiday ceremony was a pleasant surprise. Since the goal of this year was to bring the community together, it was important to the leaders of student engagement to honor diversity and inclusion within Hays and at FHSU for the holidays.
When asked about what the Tree Lighting Ceremony was all about, Easton Bradbury, Student Engagement Specialist and Graphic Designer, noted that it is about having fun.
“A lot of it here is for little kids to come have fun. It just provides a safe environment for people to gather together and to get to meet each other and experience different aspects of the holidays for different groups of people,” he said.
Student leaders and members of groups on campus were invited to contribute their take on holiday celebration to the event. The event featured groups such as the Hispanic American Leadership Organization (HALO), the Black Student Union (BSU), and the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA). Each group got to interact and connect with community members throughout the evening of holiday cheer.
Members of HALO helped out a lot with setting up and the community engagement aspect of the celebration. Danzel Major, president of the BSU, offered to take pictures of people by the tree in the Sheridan hall lobby while GSA stood at their booth nearby with resources on how to support LGBTQ+ youth and family members during the holiday season.
As the evening was winding down and kids were writing the last of their letters to Santa, they’d deliver them to the mailbox for Santa to pick up on his way out after he makes his rounds with pictures and Christmas wishes. There were plenty of cute shirts to hand out this year and they didn’t run out until the end of the night long before the horse-drawn sleigh rides were finished, of course. Overall the diversity of the community of Hays is growing year by year and we hope to see more friendly faces next year.