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    Paint B’Ham Blue goes virtual

    Starting off the new school year in a virtual format

    Western students watch the firework show at the Bellingham Herald building at Paint B’ham Blue event 2019. // Photo by Tony Mueantonthian
    Western students watch the firework show at the Bellingham Herald building at Paint B’ham Blue event 2019. // Photo by Tony Mueantonthian

    By Tony Mueantonthian

    The Western Alumni Association is planning to turn the fifth Paint B’ham Blue event into a virtual format. 

    Paint B’ham Blue has been an annual tradition that celebrates the connection and shared community between Bellingham and Western. 

    As is tradition, according to the Paint B’ham Blue page, the celebration begins when Western President, Sabah Randhawa, leads thousands of students in a procession from Red Square on campus on the first day of classes. After students arrive in downtown Bellingham, they sign their names on the Western Vikings banner, to later be displayed on campus. 

    A special downtown festival exclusively for the Western community takes place in Depot Market Square featuring dance tunes, food trucks, local vendors and giveaways. At the end of the event, students countdown to light the iconic Herald sign in Western blue and the fireworks begin.

    Western’s Associate Director of Young Alumni, Jennifer Spoelstra, said that the majority of the event will be held in a virtual format, but students will be able to see the decoration, the downtown lighting project and the fireworks. She said that the walk from the Red Square to downtown will be canceled this year. 

    “As far as we plan for the virtual event, we still haven’t figured out what the virtual event will look like, but the decoration, lights and fireworks will be there,” Spoelstra said. “We want to turn this event into a virtual format because we want students, staff and faculty to be safe.”

    Justin Gabriel, a third-year student at Western, said that Paint B’ham Blue helps students who are new to Western, especially freshman, connect to the town and get to know more people who are studying at Western.

    “I think the virtual format may not be as fun as last year, but I do admire the fact that Western is still trying to get this event to happen,” Gabriel said. “I want to see how different it could be between in-person and online.”

    Jacob Pederson, a second-year student at Western, said that he has many good memories from participating in the Paint B’ham Blue event during his first-year in 2018. He said that this event helped him to find a lot of good friendships.

    “I was having doubts about going to Western, but once I had a chance to meet people in Paint B’ham Blue in fall 2018, I felt welcome from the Western community,” Pederson said. 

     With the virtual event, Pederson said, the feeling of welcome from the Western community would not be the same.

    “I don’t think that the virtual event will be able to capture those moments that we have when we’re meeting in person,” he said. “ I feel like for the incoming freshman students at Western it might not have as big an impact.”

    Pederson said that he was worried about the connectivity of the participants in this event because it could detract from the enjoyment of the performance.

    “I think this virtual event should separate us into sections, which contain five people maximum, but at the same time we can be able to watch the host of the event,” Pederson said. “I am sure that the firework show will not be the same. However, I still recommend that someone films the ‘Herald’ sign turning blue for the virtual meeting.”

    Gabriel suggested that the local restaurants should offer some discount or free delivery for students who are participating in this event. .

    The plan for the Paint B’ham Blue event in 2021 is to return to meetings in person, according to Spoelstra.

    Spoelstra said that the event is still free and accessible for everyone who wants to participate in this event. She said that the platform for this event is still in the planning process.

    Students, staff and faculty who have some recommendations for the event can send an email to jennifer.spoelstra@wwu.edu. 

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