By Lauren Drake
Western Washington’s alumni, students, faculty and staff will assemble in the heart of downtown on the evening of Sept. 27 to watch as the iconic Herald sign turns blue — a symbol of union between the university and community.
Paint B’ham Blue for WWU garnered over 1,500 attendees in 2016, its inaugural year, and is expected to grow this year according to Western’s Assistant VP for Alumni Deborah DeWees. She, and other event organizers, hope it will become a tradition to welcome new and returning students to Bellingham.
Lindsey Payne, Events Manager for the Downtown Bellingham Partnership, worked with WWU representatives to help organize this event and bring students into the community.
“I think it’s important to engage people who are just moving to town with their community… It supports downtown business and gives students a full sense of what their town is really like,” Payne said.
The event itself has grown this year, thanks to the support of community members, businesses and organizers like Payne. Organizers even had to obtain a parade permit for the students’ procession to the Depot Market Square, after seeing such a large turn-out of students last year. There will also be more leadership present for the procession, including WWU’s President Sabah Randhawa, Associated Students President Simrun Chhabra, student athletes, the Viking Band and RA’s.
Alumni will gather for a reception with Mayor Linville at the WWU City Center before the student procession starts. The alums will welcome students through a tunnel of high-fives, complete with loud cheering and cowbells, as they enter the event.
The venue has also expanded beyond the Depot Market Square and onto the adjoining block of Railroad Ave., which will be closed to traffic for the event. This will allow more space for local food vendors, retailers, nonprofits and businesses to set up shop, many of which will be offering student discounts and free handouts, or information about possible job and internship opportunities.
Western alumnus Nathan Cox will be DJing throughout the night and there will be a live performance from the band Noisywaters before the fireworks show.
The climax of the night will be a Sensebellum light show projected onto the side of the Herald building, followed by the iconic neon Herald sign — which was fitted with color-changing LEDs for last years’ paint event — turning to blue. The grand finale is a fireworks display above the building, this year’s show will be even bigger and better than the last thanks to fireworks sponsor Rocket Doughnuts, DeWees said.
At the end of the night, students can catch a ride back up to campus with their ID cards serving as a WTA bus pass.
We hope that every incoming student comes, and we hope many other Western students come, because this is for them, DeWees said.
In another effort to bring the campus and community together, the Alumni Association has donated $43,000 in lights to illuminate trees downtown. These blue lights, hung in 180 trees throughout downtown, are intended to create a safe and welcoming environment for all community members, including students, according to Dewees. They will remain up until February and be turned white when the holiday tree is lit in December.
According to DeWees, the Alumni Association’s records indicate that about 40 businesses in downtown Bellingham are owned or co-owned by a Western graduate. Many of these businesses will continue to offer student discounts after the event, those participating will signal students by hanging a Western pennant in their storefront windows.