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A record number of Pitt students and alumni participated in Lantern Night

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Standing on the lawn of the Cathedral of Learning, first-year student Donovan Allen holds aloft the metal lantern he’s just received and peers into it. Its glass windows glitter in the late-day sun.

“I hope I get to keep it,” he says.

His mother laughs. “It’s going in the cabinet,” she tells him.

For more than two decades, Dorreen Allen (EDUC ’96) has been collecting the mementos of her children’s education — from preschool art projects to high school diplomas — and displaying them in a cabinet in her Penn Hills neighborhood home. Donovan’s lantern will be the newest addition.

Mother and son attended Pitt’s 103rd Lantern Night together on Sunday, marking Donovan’s introduction to the University and Dorreen’s return to her alma mater as a Pitt parent.

They were among the thousands who gathered beneath the Cathedral at dusk to celebrate one of Pitt’s oldest and most-beloved traditions. Lantern Night began more than a century ago to commemorate the achievements of Pitt’s first female students, sisters Margaret and Stella Stein. Using candles, alumnae would symbolically pass the “light of learning” to a new generation of Pitt women. In 2021, the ceremony was opened to first-year and transfer students of any gender, allowing alumni, staff and faculty to warmly welcome all new members of the University community.

The expanded invite list has resulted in record-setting attendance over the past two years. More than 3,000 students registered for the 2023 ceremony and nearly 200 flame bearers attended. Scheduled, as always, for the evening before fall classes began, the event served as a fitting conclusion to Welcome Week.

New students weren’t the only ones celebrating Lantern Night for the first time this year. Sunday also marked Chancellor Joan Gabel’s inaugural ceremony. To honor the occasion, Nancy Merritt, vice chancellor for alumni relations, presented Gabel with her own lantern at the ceremony. “Just as we support our students, we intend to support you,” Merritt said.

Shortly after the sun set on the Pittsburgh campus, 3,000-plus lanterns — including Gabel’s — came alive, glowing and twinkling like fireflies and signifying to students that the “light of learning” now belonged to them, too.

“Look at your flame,” Gabel said to the crowd. “Look at your lantern. It will guide you through your academic career and beyond as a proud Pitt alum.

“Don’t forget to feed the flame and to protect it — there will come a day when you’re ready to pass it along to someone else.”


— April Johnston, photography by Aimee Obidzinski