Man behind Tower shines light on University achievements

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Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Steve Giannascoli, UT electric shop crew leader, remembers the first time he lit the Tower orange.

“I was in charge of flipping the switch,” Giannascoli said. “My boss gave me the cue right before the fireworks started, and that was memorable because I was very nervous. I worried what if it didn’t come on.”

Giannascoli, one of the people responsible for lighting the Tower after receiving notice of significant achievements, lit the Tower for the UT commencement speech four years ago.

Giannascoli said it simply takes a flip of the switch to turn on Tower lights after the Office of the President requests the occasion to recognize an accomplishment. He said the biggest Tower-lighting events of the year are UT Commencement and Gone to Texas. 

Neil Crump, plant management and construction services manager, runs the Tower-lighting team. He said preparing for large-scale events takes a significant amount of time. To get ready, he and his team coordinate count-offs and the raising and lowering Tower-window shades to form numerals. Crump said the Tower provides a good medium for showcasing the University’s achievements.

“It’s architecturally significant, and it symbolizes the University of Texas,” Crump said. “It’s their pride and joy.”

Giannascoli said lighting the Tower makes up a very small but significant portion of his job.

“Not everybody gets to light the Tower,” Giannascoli said. “My kids even think it’s cool. They tell the other kids that their dad lights the Tower. That’s probably the coolest part of my job.”

Giannascoli said the power used to light the Tower goes to monitors, projectors, equipment and lighting across campus when the orange lights aren’t shining. 

Mechanical engineering junior Jeremy Priest is the creator of the website whyisthetowerorange.com. Priest said in an email that he started the website after spending a frustrating amount of time trying to find out why the Tower was orange one day. He researches daily to find out why the Tower is lit, and then he updates his website. 

“Tower lightings are sometimes a little on the secretive side,” Priest said. “I manually edit the message each day that the Tower is lit, after finding the reason. Typically it’s found on the UT Know news website, the TexasSports news site, or a few others. At times I take to Twitter if I exhaust my usual resources.”

Priest said he launched the website to make it more convenient for students to find out UT achievements and what is happening on campus.

“The most rewarding thing that comes from my website is seeing the groups, whether athletic or academic, be recognized fully for their achievement,” Priest said. “With a view of my website, the entire student body can know that our very own Quidditch team won the World Cup, or that the Satellite Design Lab won 1st at a national competition.”

Priest said the tradition of lighting the Tower reinforces school pride and awareness. 

“It is a huge honor,” Priest said. “The students around campus knowing exactly why and for whom it is lit contributes to the prestige of that honor.”