Diwali celebration brings campus community together

Close to 200 community members celebrated the Hindu Festival of Lights on Nov. 9.

Elon University’s celebration of Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, brought an unprecedented 195 students, faculty and staff, families and community members together for a joyful evening full of food, light, color, dance and education.

Elon’s Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life has hosted Diwali for 11 years to support the university community’s understanding of diverse religious and spiritual traditions, and to provide a feeling of home and meaning for Hindu students, faculty and staff.

“I’ve been able to dance at Diwali every single year that I’ve been at Elon and it’s been such a treat,” said Sonali Schroder ‘24. “Being half-Indian, I’ve always struggled with my cultural identity, and Indian culture often feels invisible at Elon. Dancing with Surtal and having my friends and family come out to show their support makes me feel so empowered and connected to my Indian heritage. I’m so grateful to be a part of this tradition.”

Attendees gathered to hear an informative presentation by the Multifaith Interns Rocco Albano ’26 and Hasan Khan ‘26; listen to Diwali stories from Sonali Schroder ‘24, Alena Jain ’24, Raghu Tadepalli, dean of the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business; watch a performance by Surtal, Elon’s Bollywood Dance Group; eat a festive meal in a tent on Phi Beta Kappa Commons; enjoy delicate henna (mehndi) art on their hands; and enjoy fun Hindi music.

The Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life is the university’s multifaith center. Throughout the year, the Truitt Center hosts holiday celebrations, prayer services, festivals, and educational sessions and programs that are open to the entire campus community.

Jain, an international student from India and the president and founder of Surtal said for her, the annual Diwali celebration provides her with both a sense of home and a chance to share her culture with her peers.

“I believe dance has the power to unite people from different cultures, and it gives me immense happiness to see Surtal foster the same within our community at Elon,” Jain said.

Diwali is a five-day Hindu religious festival that symbolizes the victory of light over darkness. The festival occurs on the new moon and marks the start of the Hindu New Year. The campus celebration incorporated the traditions of lighting the walkways with candles and using LED wands to celebrate the light.

“We mark holidays and religious festivals throughout the year to celebrate, educate, and build community,” said Hillary Zaken, interim assistant dean of Multifaith Engagement. “It’s such a joy to see so many people gather to celebrate Diwali, to learn about what each of us finds meaningful, and hopefully see that these diverse traditions can also bring us together.”

And for the Truitt Center’s multifaith interns, despite all the hard work planning the event, creating a meaningful space for education and celebration is a point of pride: “Diwali is a holiday that’s celebrated by over a billion people around the world, but it’s something that many people in the US know very little about,” said Rocco Albano ’26. “By putting on the celebration, not only do we represent the diverse faith traditions we have on our campus, we also invite everyone to learn more about them and to celebrate them together.”