Lean into Light: BYU Homecoming adds new features while relying on tradition

Delta Phi’s winning Homecoming sweepstakes float in 1952 (Courtesy, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602).

BYU’s Homecoming traditions trace their history back more than 125 years, and the 2023 version of Homecoming is relying on that legacy while adding new opportunities for alumni to reconnect.

Most of the hundreds of thousands of living alumni of BYU will not travel to campus for the Homecoming activities that will run Oct. 17-21, but the University is making it possible for them to still participate via “Homecoming from Home.”

Alumni can register to participate in BYU activities away from Provo, said Alexa Anderson, marketing manager for BYU Alumni. Participants have the chance to win swag boxes and even an all-expenses-paid trip to campus.

“Last year, we saw an incredible interest from so many alumni living across the country,” Anderson said. “So, we thought we should create a program that allows people to interact with BYU during this week and still feel like they get to be a part of it even though they’re not on campus.”

Activities for alumni include hiking and lighting the Y from home, having a tailgate party, or hosting a watch party for the BYU vs. Texas Tech football game on Saturday, Oct. 21. Cougar fans can also participate in a trivia quiz, recreate the fight song, and send in videos of themselves dancing like Cosmo.

“We’ll raise our colors high in the blue and cheer our Cougars of BYU!” shout thousands of football fans every year at Homecoming and other football games. Young freshmen might mumble their way through the fight song at first, but they learn to cheer it, joining the voices of nearly half a million living alumni.

Hours of planning and coordination go into creating a memorable, meaningful Homecoming each year. Anderson says this special week brings the BYU community together to celebrate student talent and alumni achievement.

“There’s something magical about sports that unifies a community,” Anderson said. “It’s something that a lot of people share a passion and love for.”

BYU’s Student Service Association (BYUSA), the athletics department, university communications, dining services, and the alumni office all come together to plan the week, Anderson said.

“We want to create moments or experiences for not only students, but alumni as well, to feel and remember their experience at BYU,” Anderson said. “We want them to foster those good memories.”

Man plays the saw while performing in the homecoming spectacular in 1983 (Courtesy, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602).

Fritz-Carl Morlant, the president of BYUSA, said he has enjoyed planning activities that help students feel included and make new connections. He strives to live the BYUSA motto of “students serving students.”

Morlant, along with many other dedicated student leaders, have planned several events around Brigham Square including pizza at the plaza at noon on Tuesday, Oct. 17, and other midday activities in Brigham Square on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Homecoming week.

Students also won’t want to miss the homecoming dance with a “fresh and funky live DJ,” as Morlant described. Tickets went on sale Oct. 2.

Morlant grew up in Haiti where homecoming wasn’t a tradition for him. He shared how meeting other people at BYU through these activities has helped him feel connected.

“I’ve really loved getting to know people’s stories because all of us are so unique at BYU,” Morlant said. “I feel like I’m not alone, even though I don’t have many people from Haiti with me.”

The first Homecoming traditions that brought students and alumni together began on Oct. 16, 1891 when BYU President Benjamin Cluff established “Founder’s Day,” according to archivist Gordon Daines. It was an opportunity for students to honor individuals who helped Brigham Young Academy flourish in its beginning years.

This tradition evolved to include a football game and a parade in 1930, according to BYU history. Since then, traditions have expanded and grown to celebrate the large but tight-knit BYU community.

BYU fans gather to watch as the homecoming queen float passes by in 1947 (L. Tom Perry Special Collections).

In past years, students and faculty have gathered in parades, nominated Homecoming queens, hiked to light the Y, and attended grand opening ceremonies with performances from outstanding BYU groups. Anderson shared that though some of these traditions have been retired, they serve as special memories for many alumni.

“As times change, the needs of people change,” Anderson said. “We’ve really tried to determine the needs of our alumni and students and cater to those.”

Morlant said he hopes that in planning these activities, everyone will feel like they belong in the BYU community.

“Our parents and the people who have come before us have established great traditions,” Morlant said. “It helps us feel like we are connected to our ancestors and the history of BYU – Homecoming is a reflection of that.”

Both Anderson and Morlant emphasized that the overall goal of carrying out these activities is to help students “lean into light,” as encouraged through this year’s Homecoming theme. Morlant said that being a light to the world is the true essence of having the spirit of the Y.

“As we’re facing increasingly dark moments, BYU students can be the light that people look to,” Morlant said. “Having the spirit of the Y means to be a shining light in the midst of everything that’s happening.”

Anderson said that BYU is a unique university because it not only provides secular knowledge to students, but also spiritual learning and light.

“The mission of BYU is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life, and the way we do that is through Christ,” Anderson said. “If we lean into that unique light, we are exemplifying that spirit of the Y.”

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