Arctic Lights on Gates-Rawson Tower inspires gingerbread replica

Dec. 22, 2020 — As first-year students in 2019, Jamie Lee ’23 and Isabella Vergara ’23 watched together when the Arctic Lights on Gates-Rawson Tower were lit up.

The memory sparked an idea that Gates and Rawson halls would be the best buildings on campus to recreate in gingerbread. Back home in Houston, Lee and Vergara sculpted the Gates-Rawson Tower and adjoining halls for the December 2020 Student Alumni Council’s dessert decorating contest.

“We really miss being on campus with all of our friends, so we wanted to have a little piece of Grinnell for the holidays,” Vergara says. “It took us a whole day to bake and put everything together. We had to work on our statistics problems while the cookies cooled. The most challenging part was putting on the roofs. We had a couple of close calls before everything finally dried.”

The dessert decorating contest was a sweet edition to the sixth annual Arctic Lights festivities. Established in 2015 as a community-building event, the Grinnell College Student Alumni Council annually organizes the event to light up Gates-Rawson Tower.

Traditionally, students and community members gather at the tower on an evening the week after Thanksgiving for singing, refreshments, and the unveiling of the lights. Due to COVID-19, the Council shifted to a virtual format this year on Dec. 4. A video played during the event showing a time lapse of the lights being turned out and a holiday greeting from Schvalla Rivera, chief diversity officer and vice president of diversity & inclusion.


There were nine entries in the dessert decorating contest. Bûche de noël created by Georgia Young-Dahl ’21 was runner-up. The bûche de noël is a traditional French dessert. It is more widely known as a yule log in the U.S. Dahl baked a chocolate cake, rolled it into a log shape, and filled it with a cream swirl. The entire cake was then covered in chocolate buttercream and decorated to look like a log.

The Gates-Rawson gingerbread creation won first place.

“We’re both ecstatic with how it turned out; although both being perfectionists, we were taking notes on how to improve for next year,” Lee says. “We're still deciding which building we should do next.”

—by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

The Student Alumni Council (SAC) is a student-run group that fosters connections between students and alumni, empowers students to be a part of the wider Grinnell community, raises awareness about Grinnell’s history and traditions, and works to develop a culture of service and philanthropy among current students. Learn more about the SAC on its website or contact Mitch Wolff, assistant director of student programs.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.