Brigham Young University’s most visible landmark came about due to hard work, a class rivalry — and failure.
The letters “B,” “Y” and “U” were originally all supposed to oversee the Utah Valley from the Wasatch Mountains. But after a day of long, tough work, students decided that simply getting the “Y” up on the mountain had been enough trouble and the other two letters were going to be too much effort to be worth it.
While only one of the three letters are on the mountains, BYU President Kevin Worthen told graduates during commencement exercises Thursday morning, things ended up working out the way they should have.
“You may not see it immediately, but God can make all things work together for your good,” Worthen said. “He can turn an altercation between rival classes and a failed attempt to stamp a mountain with three letters into a symbol of unity and success.”
About 7,000 students will receive degrees during commencement ceremonies this week at BYU. This year’s ceremony was the first since the university announced last year it was switching to a single, annual commencement ceremony. The ceremony was moved to the morning this year, and tickets were required for guests.
Addressing the graduates Thursday morning in the Marriott Center, Worthen shared the history of both the Y on Y Mountain and the letter “y.” Worthen said the letter “y” was first included in the Roman alphabet in 100 A.D. and was seen as a redundant letter since it made the same sound as the letter “i.” It was almost axed because it looked too similar to “thorn,” but stayed because French printers didn’t have “thorn” in their printing images.
Worthen said students can learn from both stories.
“First, symbols such as the letter ‘y’ or the Y on the mountain ultimately gain meaning in our lives not so much because of their physical shape or presence, but because of what we choose to make of them,” Worthen said. “Likewise, the meaning of events in our lives will be determined not so much by the events themselves, but on how we choose to view and respond to them.”
Worthen said some saw “y’s” inclusion in the alphabet as a nuisance, but not him.
“If we choose to view events in our lives from the eternal perspective that emanates from an understanding of God’s eternal plan of salvation, our lives will be more productive, happier, and we will have greater strength to meet the challenges that will inevitably come our way,” Worthen said. “All that depends on how we choose to view things.”
Patrick Kearon, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told students that God has an immense love for them and is preparing a learning experience for them that will continue after their graduation from BYU.
“You have an outline of the syllabus, but large pieces of the course have no textbook,” Kearon said. “The course requirements and the rubric are individually tailored to each of you, and because of the wisdom and omniscience of God, no two are alike.”
He urged students to choose to be happy and continually repent. Kearon said repentance is about more than asking to be forgiven of sin, it’s also about spiritual growth.
“Think of this fresh understanding of repentance as the gift that it is,” Kearon said. “Think of it as a present, wrapped in gleaming paper, with a bright bow, but unopened. It is time to open it and receive the gift.”
He encouraged graduates to work to help others and make the world a better place.
“There is a clear need for you to engage in public service,” Kearon said. “You can serve on school boards, charities and in local and national governments. Build individuals and communities. Where appropriate, involve yourself in politics. Avoid the political tribalism and contempt which has become so destructive across countries and continents. You can become an advocate for fairness in all corners of society.”
The university awarded an honorary doctorate to Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institution, during the ceremonies. Brooks told graduates that the nation’s climate has turned from promising hope and opportunity to being filled with contempt.
“When America is torn apart, we become incapable of living up the plan, the holy plan for our nation, which is to shine a light for the rest of the world,” Brooks said.
He said that while disagreement is good, contention is not.
“We don’t need to disagree less, we need to disagree better,” Brooks said.
He encouraged the students to spread love and stated that their missionary experience has prepared them for the task.
Convocation ceremonies, where students’ names are read and they walk across the stage, were scheduled to take place Thursday afternoon and continue Friday.