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The Back Story: Premier UNLV

One of our favorite traditions is this annual event to kick off the fall semester in style with a concert, fireworks, and the lighting up of the UNLV letters.

UNLV History  |  Aug 27, 2015  |  By Cate Weeks
Students Cheering

A scene from the 2016 Premier UNLV event. (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Photo Services)

Editor's Note: 

Join the fun at Premier UNLV, one of the largest and longest running traditions on campus, on Aug. 31 at the intramural field. Doors open at 5:30 and T-Shirts will be provided to the first 4,000 students who attend the event.  


Back in 1996, Sunny Gittens was asked to create a new tradition for UNLV to cap off opening week of the fall semester. Brainstorming, and a little borrowing from other universities, led to the longstanding tradition of Premier UNLV. Gittens, who is now executive director of the student engagement & diversity office, said the name was chosen because of fall timing — remember when tv shows always premiered in the fall? — and because UNLV had just set its goal to become a premier research university.

fireworks at premier u.n.l.v. eventThat first year, much to Gittens’ surprise, more than 800 students showed up to light up the school’s acronym with flashlights

Gittens will tell you her favorite year was 1998, “the first year you could really tell there were students out there holding the flashlights.” But we suspect otherwise. A year later, fireworks went off in more than one sense when she met her future husband, Tom, whose company still provides the pyrotechnics. 

It’s since grown to more than 5,000 attendees and is now coordinated by the Rebel Events Board within Student Engagement & Diversity.

In 2015, the event moved to the intramural fields at Swenson and Harmon avenues. The event continues to include giveaways of fight song t-shirts, free food, music, and of course the annual letter formation.