After All

Making the Y-Sparkle


Students stand alongside a string of 25-watt bulbs lining the perimeter of Utah Valley's most famous letter. With a twist of some 150 wrists, the 100-year-old Y still shines bright.

Students stand alongside a string of 25-watt bulbs lining the perimeter of Utah Valley’s most famous letter. With a twist of some 150 wrists, the 100-year-old Y still shines bright.

After years of denial, a Cougar answers the call of the Y.

How many BYU students does it take to screw in a light bulb? The obvious answer would be “I don’t know. Will this be on the test?” But if you’re talking about the string of 25-watt bulbs used to light the Y for Homecoming or graduation, it takes approximately 150 people to do it right.

It’s my 20th BYU Homecoming, and once again I contemplate hiking to the Y. I have a history of inaction when it comes to our beloved slope. My first invitation to hike the Y was my freshman year. Some guys in my Helaman Halls dorm were headed up early on a Saturday morning. Incline or recline? I stayed in bed.

I later considered a solo climb, but my incentive diminished somehow when one Sunday a fellow freshman stood at the pulpit, spread his arms wide above his head, and asked, “Y should we read the scriptures?” He raised his arms repeatedly as he found new ways and reasons to question “Y.” I sat stone-faced, arms folded like LaVell on game day, and thought, “Y me?”

This fall BYU seems more like home than ever before, and I begin to think, “Y not?” Our small family recently moved from Orem to a house at the foot of Y Mountain. From our front door you can hear the roar of the crowd at football games, the happy blare of marching-band practices, and the hourly tones of the bell tower.

And with 2006 the aging Y hits the century mark. It is the grandfatherly symbol of the university, and when Grandpa is turning 100, it would be disrespectful to not stop by and wish him well.

So it comes down to this. On a crisp fall day I enlist the support of my wife and my boys, ages 9 and 11, to join the festive group trooping up to light the Y. We put on our BYU shirts, pack some mint brownies, and fill a bottle with Y Sparkle. We even sing the “Cougar Fight Song” as we drive to the trailhead.

We arrive just before Cosmo—there to lead the charge of Cougars. Comfortable in his native environment, he passes us at the foot of the Y trail, rolling up the rocky path on the back of an ATV. Undaunted, we start hiking. Soon the strenuous grade strains our legs and lungs, and going down starts to look better than continuing up.

A half hour later we meet a young teen descending. We ask him, “So how much farther to the Y?”

He replies, “If you’re going up you are about halfway there. But if you’re going down, it’s farther than that.” We blink our eyes in confusion but take it as a sign that we are getting closer.

Twilight deepens. The views of campus and Utah Valley are more stunning with every skyward step. After countless switchbacks and three BYUSA “encouragement” stations (one featuring peppy students singing, “If you’re hiking and you know it, clap your hands”), we finally stand near the bottom of the Y.

The first thing we notice is how big the Y really is. And while it looks smooth from the valley, up close it is bumpy. As we enjoy the perspectives gained with altitude, we eat our mint brownies and down our Y Sparkle.

Soon hundreds of students arrive and dot the Y’s cold, white cement. Many of them wear headphones and carry cell phones. One young woman thinks aloud, “I wonder if my parents hiked up here when they were students.” Almost in response, another student, just a few feet down the Y, bends her head into her cell phone and says, “Mom, guess where I am.”

When it’s time to light the Y, everybody moves to the string of lights. We find a vacant spot near the bottom-right side and get ready for our turn to twist. We look up to the middle of the Y where the two arms join. There the first bulb soon shines. It takes about a minute to light the hundreds of bulbs, starting from the middle and working up, over, and around the edges of the blocky white letter. We watch, and when our turn comes we twist and smile, our corner lit and our mission complete.

We are hesitant to leave, but after huddling in for a short musical performance by a local vocalist, we feel the night’s chill and soon follow the line of departing students.

After our descent in the dark, we pause at the trailhead and look back up at the Y, glowing in the night. We locate our bulb in the distance, then get in the car, glad to be a part of Homecoming and glad to finally be coming home.