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Lehigh After Dark’s Diner en Blanc (and Brown) brings 'touch of magic' to campus

What started on a whim evolved into an extraordinary student-centered event that was attended by 500 students and several administrators, and ended with a round of fireworks that lit up the late September sky over Goodman Campus.

“It was one of the coolest things that I’ve done at Lehigh,” said Kayla Jang ’17 in a note to organizers about the Diner en Blanc (and Brown). “I just wanted to thank you and everyone else who put in the time to put it together. Everyone had an amazing time!”

Jang’s comments were echoed by other attendees, who honored the spirit of the evening by dressing in white, hopping from table to table to socialize with other attendees, posing for pictures and sharing impressions on social media throughout the evening.The event was described as “awesome” and “amazing,” and many expressed appreciation for the food, music and surprises, which included a dessert reception at a second location, favors of a 150-emblazoned mason jar, sparklers and a fireworks display.

“It was so beautifully done,” wrote Christina DiNapoli '16. “Everything had just a touch of magic and seemed far away from Lehigh, with the Lehigh spirit still there.”

The event was supported by a number of offices and organizations across the university, which included the office of the president and provost, several departments within Student Affairs (including the Lehigh After Dark, or LAD committee), Student Auxiliary Services (including Dining Services), athletics, and the Council for Equity and Community.

Planning for the LAD event began in an early September meeting of the group’s programming committee, and was inspired by the Parisian tradition of assembling a group of people in a secret location to enjoy a pleasant evening among the city’s architectural treasures. Participants for the invitation-only event are asked to dress in white and are responsible for transporting their own food, tables, chair and flowers to the location, which is revealed shortly before the event. The tradition spread from Paris to several cities throughout Europe and the United States, and typically draws thousands of participants.

Lehigh’s Diner en Blanc (and Brown)’s interpretation provided all the food, non-alcoholic beverages, tables, chairs, entertainment and some additional features. The $5 registration fee was donated to Colleges Against Cancer and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (through Lehigh’s Dance Marathon). An invitation was sent to all undergraduate and graduate students, and the event was sold out in less than 24 hours.

Beginning at 6:30 on Friday, Sept. 26, attendees were transported from Grace Hall to the lawn outside the tennis center on Goodman Campus, where rows of luminarias lit a pathway to the reception area. A filmy white photo backdrop was illuminated by strings of lights, and the large letters spelling out “Lehigh” were also outlined in lights. White lights twinkled in the trees that lined the expansive dining area, and a 150th logo was projected onto the side of the tennis center.

The guests nibbled on tortillas with spinach and artichoke dip and cocktail meatballs, and sipped non-alcoholic white “Sesqui Sangria.” Dinner, which was served on long rows of tables dotted with candles and mason jars filled with stems of autumn hydrangea, included Caesar salad, marinated steak, grilled chicken with tomato basil bruschetta, penne al forno in a tomato cream sauce, and olive oil-roasted broccolini.

At the conclusion of the dinner, students were transported to the soccer stadium for dessert and music before the entire stadium was plunged into darkness and a 10-minute fireworks display began.

Filing out of the stadium to return to campus, many students sought out university representatives to thank them for sponsoring the event.

“It was wonderful to see that many students from across the campus having such fun,” said John Smeaton, vice provost of Student Affairs. “You could see it in their smiles and hear it in their laughter; they were having a ball. It was without a doubt one of the finest student events I have seen at Lehigh.”

Andrea Barker, who chairs the operations committee of Lehigh After Dark, which supports student social opportunities that do not involve alcohol, said it was invigorating to see so many students interested in attending an alcohol-free event. “Events like this continue to fuel my desire to bring innovating and interesting events to campus,” she said. “If students will come, I’m happy to plan.”

A collaborative effort

In addition to Barker, the organizing team for Diner en Blanc included Jenna Papaz and Maddy Eadline from Student Affairs, and Lindsay Lebresco and Linda Harbrecht from University Communications. Logistics for the event involved many across campus, who generously donated time and services to pull together a grand-scale event in a matter of weeks, organizers say.

They credit Allen Biddinger, director of athletics facilities and events; David Joseph, executive director of Student Auxiliary Services; Mary Kay Baker, director of conference and special housing services; and Claudine Sidney, director of catering. Additional support also came from Gary Falasca, director of Facilities Services.

“The celebration of Lehigh’s Sesquicentennial provided all of us with an opportunity to think big and do something that’s never been done here before at Lehigh,” said Lebresco. “Everyone brought so much enthusiasm to the process of planning and executing an event that brought together students from all class years and from many groups and organizations. There was a palpable sense of unity during this shared experience that felt very special and unique.”

Eadline said the committee drew on a “league of volunteers from Student Affairs who worked on everything from marketing to set-up and clean-up. They made sure we had enough support before, during and after the event, and their efforts helped us pull off an unforgettable night at Lehigh.”

Start to finish, said Harbrecht, “there was incredible cooperation and support from so many on campus. They were not only supportive with funding, but with their time and talent and their commitment to making this all happen. And given the fact that many of these individuals are also involved with planning for other major 150th events, it was incredibly generous of them to devote so much of their time and effort to this particular event.”

Papaz, who helps coordinate LAD activities, said the extremely positive student response is deeply valued. “We’re listening to their feedback about the kind of programming students want for late night options, and we are looking forward to incorporating their opinions into future efforts.”

Photos by Christa Neu

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Attendees honored the spirit of the evening by dressing in white, hopping from table to table to socialize with other attendees, posing for pictures and sharing impressions on social media.

White-clad attendees gather on the lawn outside Lehigh's tennis center on Goodman Campus.

Students each lit three sparklers to commemorate Lehigh's past, present and future.

A ten-minute fireworks display to conclude the event lit up the sky over Lehigh's Goodman Campus.