Friday, Sept. 2, 2011 | 1:55 a.m.
With fireworks bursting overhead and the glowing Las Vegas Strip as a backdrop, more than 3,000 UNLV students marked the start of a new academic year Thursday by gathering on the school’s North Field for a ritual photograph.
Holding flashlights into the night sky, the students filled in the UNLV letters painted on the grass field for the aerial picture. As it’s done each year, freshmen filled in the letter U, sophomores the N, juniors the L and seniors the V.
The event — Premier UNLV — is held the first Thursday of each new school year.
“It grows bigger and bigger every year,” said Sabrina Beckman, lead event coordinator. “It’s a way to start off the school year. It’s our annual tradition.”
This year, Premier fell on the same night the UNLV football team was taking on Wisconsin in its season opener.
Two television screens in front of a stage allowed students to watch the away game. And even though the Rebels lost, that didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of students, faculty and alumni at the event.
Freshman Christiana Chaves said she didn’t care about watching the game. “I’m expecting a lot of fun and to meet a lot of people,” said Chaves, a business major.
Seeing old friends, making new ones and snagging a coveted Premier UNLV T-shirt were among the reasons students turned out.
Paul Miller, who recently received a doctorate in civil engineering, was attending his fourth Premier.
He wore a vintage Premier shirt with the school’s fight song written on it upside down, “so you can read it while you’re wearing the shirt,” he said.
Before the fireworks display and photo, several UNLV administrators welcomed the crowd.
UNLV President Neal Smatresk took a photo of the crowd, saying he needed a picture of all his friends to post on Facebook.
“I want to make sure you all have a great year,” he said.
Basketball coach Dave Rice also took to the stage and urged the crowd to attend games this season.
“It’s exciting to be here for me,” said Rice, who received an undergraduate degree in political science and a master’s degree in business from UNLV. “I think it just speaks to what UNLV is and campus life. I think it’s a great event. It just speaks to Rebel pride.”