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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 music, fireworks, and the lighting up of the UNLV letters.

UNLV History  |  Aug 22, 2018  |  By Cate Weeks
students dancing

A scene from the 2017 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 Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, at the intramural field. Doors open at 5:30. The event is free and open to current students, faculty, and staff.


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 — this was pre-streaming days, when tv shows always premiered in the fall. And the administration had set a goal to transform UNLV from a good regional school into 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. 

Such memory-making moments have continued. In 2017, Michael Naft took to the stage to propose to Lauren Veslany. The couple has since tied the knot.

The events has grown to more than 5,000 attendees and is now coordinated by the Rebel Events Board within Student Engagement & Diversity with partners from across campus.

In 2015, the event moved to the intramural fields at Swenson and Harmon avenues. And in 2016, students broke the Guiness World Record for the most LED lights lit simultaneously. It continues to include giveaways, the traditional singing of the fight song, free food, and music.