Lighting the Y is about to get much easier than hauling electric lights and flammable materials up the mountain. Workers simply have to turn on the power for the new permanent fixtures on Tuesday, Oct. 11.
The Y was lit for the first time in 1924 when students set fire to mattress stuffing in oil pots. This continued for more than 60 years, and some former students took the tradition very seriously, said alumni services coordinator Curtis Isaak.
“A group of students called the ‘Intercollegiate Knights’ took the responsibility of lighting the Y and staying up on the mountain all night making sure the Y stayed lit and protecting (it) from pranksters,” Isaak said.
BYU got electric lights and a generator in the late 1980s, when the class of 1985 purchased them as a gift to the university. Someone still had to carry the lights up the trail every time BYU lit the Y: orientation, Homecoming, Y Days and April and August graduations.
The university acquired 81 acres of Y Mountain from the U.S. Forest Service in March 2016, including the full trail, the Y and land surrounding both. Crews installed permanent lighting and reconstructed part of the trail over the summer.
BYU President Kevin J Worthen said in March that the university would continue to share Y Mountain with the community.
“One of the first things that visitors to BYU notice is the presence of the mountains that rise dramatically to the east of our campus,” President Worthen said. “We intend to make sure the Y continues to stand as a welcoming symbol to all who come to Utah Valley.”
President Worthen’s Fall 2016 devotional address also referred to the Y. He said students should not only light the Y, but they should also let the Y light them.
“God has a work to perform through you,” President Worthen said. “Make him the center of your efforts. Do what he would want you to do. Let his light shine more brightly through you as a result of your experiences at BYU.”
The permanent lights and reconstructed trail aren’t the only new aspects of Homecoming 2016.
“The tradition is evolving this year in a big way, following the recent renovations to both the trail and the Y,” University Communications spokeswoman Natalie Tripp said.
2016 is the first time students can participate in lighting the Y in two different ways: by hiking the trail or partying on campus. The first 700 students to hike the Y will receive a lantern commemorating the event, but there will also be an on-campus activity to celebrate the lighting. The party will include performances from BYU groups and a periodic live-stream of the students on the mountain.
Senior Christian Orr said he has fond memories of hiking the Y during a past Homecoming week.
“I remember being surprised by how soft the light was,” Orr said. “But it was still very bright. The hike was pretty brutal, but from the top it was really cool to look down and see Provo at night.”
Lighting the Y and other Homecoming activities might have evolved over the years, but university archivist Cory Nimer said one thing has remained consistent.
“The main focus of Homecoming is really about bringing everyone together, whether that’s the student body or inviting alumni and others to come back and celebrate as a campus community,” Nimer said.
Homecoming week kicks off on Tuesday, Oct. 11, with opening ceremonies in the Marriott Center at 11:05 a.m. Various events will run until Saturday, Oct. 15. A full schedule of events is available on the Homecoming website.