It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and the lights on the SPC campus will soon be aglow.
South Plains College will host its annual tree lighting ceremony Thursday at the entrance to the college. The fine arts department, directed by Dr. Gary Hudson, will provide musical entertainment and the SPC band will begin playing at 5:30 p.m.
At 6 p.m., Dr. Robin Satterwhite, president of the college, will be joined by Machayla Parkinson, who was recently crowned Miss Caprock, and together they will screw in the missing lightbulb as the countdown begins for the tree lighting. The event will kick off the community-wide event, the Festival of Lights and Christmas on the Square.
The history of the college’s tree lighting goes back more than half a century to 1969 when the college put up a Douglas fir tree, brought in from Cloudcroft, New Mexico, establishing a yearly tradition on the college campus. In 1984, after the main entrance of the college was redesigned, the James Lattimore family donated an eldarica pine tree, which was planted at the main entrance of the college.
Mike Box, chair of the Board of Regents, placed the first lights on the outside of the Student Union Building in 1968. In the book “Dreams Precede Realities: The First Forty Years of South Plains College” by L. Terry Isaacs, Box said he and the director of student activities, Tom Selman, purchased every red light bulb in Levelland before traveling to Lubbock and buying every red light at the local TG&Y store.
“We came back, dangled over the edge of the roof and stretched out the lights to decorate the building,” Box is quoted in the book.
In 2018, South Plains College began partnering with the Levelland Main Street program and Levelland Marigolds to host one large Christmas event. The Main Street program in the past only hosted the lighted parade in conjunction with Christmas on the Square, hosted by the Marigolds.
With the partnership, the community is invited to attend the tree lighting on the front lawn of the campus before watching the lighted parade, which travels from SPC, down College Avenue to Houston Street, ending at the downtown square.
Santa Claus leads the parade on a firetruck, starting at the entrance to the college, traveling south on Barnes, passing by the men’s residence halls before turning west on JV Morton. The parade then travels north down College Avenue, turning west on Houston Street and ending at the gazebo on the downtown square (Avenue G). Santa will be ready to meet children at 6:30 p.m.
The SPC Student Life office will provide hot chocolate and coloring pages for children and families at the event downtown.
Joshua Meredith, director of student life at SPC, said his office strives to provide opportunities for students to participate outside of the classroom to promote a sense of “belonging.”
“There is a plethora of research backing the importance of student engagement outside the classroom in addition to their engagement inside the classroom,” Meredith said. “It all starts with belonging. When students feel a sense of belonging and that they matter, then they engage.”
Meredith said the ultimate goal of the student life office is to help students find their place within the greater community, whether that be the college itself or the town in which they live.
“The ultimate goal of Student Life is to help form well-rounded citizens who are active in the community,” Meredith said. “For that reason, we find opportunities to collaborate and participate in events like the tree lighting, parade and downtown Festival of Lights. This collaborative event provides a bridge for students to connect to the local community.”
There is also a chance for student organizations to win a $500 cash prize by participating in the lighted parade, which Meredith says is a great fundraising opportunity.
Meredith said it’s also about giving students a chance to connect outside of their familiar digital realms.
“We’re at a point in time where we’re more digitally connected than ever before,” Meredith said. “However, studies show we’re less connected in real life and it’s having negative effects on younger generations. More social connections and social engagement leads to longer, healthier lives–literally…For a generation of students struggling with feelings of stress, anxiety and isolation, part of the solution could and should be social connection.”
Students are a piece of the bigger picture, too, Meredith said and should be encouraged to participate in this year’s tree lighting festivities to metaphorically add their own tiles to the mosaic.
“The tree lighting and related events provide an opportunity to engage, which is one piece of the broader picture, or mosaic, that we are seeking to create,” Meredith said.
Tania Moody, manager of the Levelland Main Street program, said the partnership with SPC is a way to show students what Levelland is all about.
“SPC is such a missing piece for us downtown,” Moody said. “With a junior college, we’re talking about kids who are only here for a couple of years…We are trying to reach those kids who are coming here as their temporary home and show them we value their presence here.”
Moody said it’s about making an impression and making SPC students feel like Levelland is and could be their future home.
“We want them to experience what this place has to offer so when they go on down the road, they’ll remember Levelland,” Moody said. “And maybe it is the place they want to come back to and raise a family or find a job and stay because they find value here.”
There will be hot and fresh food available with at least three food trucks at the downtown event, including Pork Rinds and Kettle Corn, The Wok Brothers and Outlaw Eggrolls. Additionally, the Main Street program is planning for inflatables for children with the addition of a “Munchkin Land” this year, designed specifically for children ages five and under.
“This gives us a place for our younger kids so moms and dads don’t feel like their kids are going to get run over by the bigger kids,” Moody said.
In the big scheme of things, Moody said her goal for the collaborative effort is to show everyone in Levelland, young, old, and of all backgrounds that Levelland has a place for them.
“We want everyone to experience Levelland and see that there is a place for them here,” Moody said. “We want them to experience ‘Living La Vida Mosaic.’”
The theme for the lighted parade this year is West Texas and forms to register for the parade are available online. The deadline to enter the parade is Wednesday by 5 p.m. Float entries will also be allowed to park downtown and set up a booth to provide information on their organization.
“It’s going to be a ton of fun with games for families and we will even have more than 500 snow balls to play with,” Moody said. “We have some great decorations and it’s going to be a really fun evening.”
For more information, call the Levelland Main Street office at (806) 894-9079 or go online.