In the spring of 1912 Brigham Young University was in a financial crisis.
In order to raise needed capital, it had been decided that the university would sell the land north and east of the then partially completed Maeser Building on temple Hill for the development of a new Provo suburb. The university simply had to have the money to survive. The graduation ceremony was to conclude with a sales pitch to the community.
When Alfred Kelly was introduced that morning as the student speaker for this first four-year graduating class, he rose and stood absolutely silent for several moments. Some in the audience thought he had lost the power of speech. Slowly he began to speak, explaining that he had been much concerned over his remarks, that he had written several versions and discarded every one of them.
Then, early one morning, he said, with a feeling of desperation about his assignment, he walked up to where Maeser Memorial stood (as Horace Cummings later described it) as an “air castle” come to earth. He wanted to gain inspiration from this hope of a new campus, but he felt only grim disappointment. The sky was starting to glow from the morning light, but the darkly silhouetted Maeser building seemed only a symbol of gloom.
Kelly then turned his eyes to view the valley below that was also still in shadow. The light from the rising sun was just beginning to illuminate the western hills back to Utah Lake with an unusual golden glow.
As morning came, the light gradually worked down from the hilltops, moved across the valley floor, and slowly advanced to the spot where Kelly stood. He said he partially closed his eyes as the light approached and was startled by what he could still see. He stood as if transfixed.
In the advancing sunlight everything he saw took on the appearance of people, young people about his age moving toward Temple Hill. He saw hundreds of them, thousands of young people coming into view. He knew they were students, he said, because they carried books in their arms as they came.
Then Temple Hill was bathed in sunlight, and the whole of the present campus was illuminated not with one partially completed building, nor homes in a modern subdivision, but rather with what Kelly described to that graduating class as “temples of learning,” hundreds of large, beautiful buildings covering the top of that hill and stretching clear to the mouth of Rock Canyon. The students then entered these temples of learning with their books in hand.
Kelly said their countenances bore smiles of hope and of faith: they seemed cheerful and very confident. Their walk was light but firm as they became a part of the sunlight as it moved to the top of Y Mountain and then gradually disappeared from view.
Kelly sat down to what was absolutely stone-deaf silence. Not a word was spoken. What about the sales pitch? No one moved or whispered. Then longtime BYU benefactor Jesse Knight jumped to his feet and shouted, “We won’t sell an acre! We won’t sell a single lot!”
And he turned to President George Brimhall and pledged several thousand dollars to the future of the university. Soon, others stood up and joined in, some offering only a widow’s mite, but all believing in the dream of a Provo school boy, all believing in the destiny of a great university which that day had scarcely begun.
— from a talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland