After a 10-year absence, Y Day returns to Brigham Young University this weekend, with community service projects, sports competitions and dances planned for BYU students.
With roots traceable back to 1906, Y Day is not only a university tradition symbolized by the white block "Y" on Y Mountain, which was painted every year on that day, but became a unified, schoolwide effort to enhance school spirit and community relations.However, the tradition died out nearly 10 years ago as a freshman orientation event because of the heavy foot traffic on the already-eroding Y Mountain and the difficulty in organizing and coordinating such an event the week before the start of BYU's fall semester.
"We decided that 27,000 students would be an interesting challenge, and that now, more than ever, we need that unity," said Maryann Goodsell, Y Day co-chairman and vice president of student community services for Associated Students of BYU, the university's student government association.
"It's a chance for us to give something back to the university and the community at large," Goodsell said. "We take so much for four to five years . . . , we're a drain on the system."
Rather than wait to become money-donating alumni years later, students can make an immediate return contribution, she said. "We can do something now . . . for a community that has given us much."
The weekend kicks off Friday evening with competition between the bishops of the LDS student wards, a fashion show, a dance and the traditional lighting of the mountainside "Y."
Service projects scheduled for Saturday morning include sprucing up a half-dozen city parks; cleaning the yards or painting the houses of about 50 elderly, widowed or needy individuals; developing an aviary trail at Provo's wilderness park; tearing down old barns along west Center Street; planting trees; building a pavilion and cleaning up at the Utah Lake State Park; and cleaning and repairing the cast-stone garbage cans on campus.
While the block "Y" may not be whitewashed as in years past, other efforts will be based on the mountain, including the planting of several thousand seedling trees to help control erosion and removal of the brush north of the "Y" to make it more visible.
For most whose ties to the university go back better than 10 years, Y Day has traditionally been associated with the whitewashing of the block "Y" on the side of Y Mountain. But the day's beginnings were less than formal and organized.
In 1906, the junior class whitewashed its " '07" graduating year on the mountain, much to the displeasure of the other classes especially the seniors, who hunted down participating juniors and shaved heir heads.
As an alternative to the interclass clashing, George Henry Brimhall, then university president, proposed that a universitywide symbol be placed on the mountainside. With 250 acres purchased, the letters "B-Y-U" were plotted out, with the whole student body expecting to spend a couple hours whitewashing the three-letter acronym. However, only a light covering of the "Y" was the result of a six-hour effort, and no attempt was ever made to cover the other two letters.
Y Day evolved into an annual routine, starting with freshmen clearing the brush away from the block letter as part of their class initiation. Then the faculty cleared the trail, the freshmen hauled water from a spring, the sophomores carried the lime power and mixed the whitewash in wooden troughs, and the juniors and seniors poured the whitewash on the "Y."
Through the years, other activities were added. The "lighting the `Y' " tradition started in 1921, with sports and games such as swimming, bowling and roller skating added some 15 years later.
Y Day survived the conflicts and issues over the generations the threatened cancellation in 1944 because of World War II and inclusion of female students in the whitewashing efforts by the early 1970s. For many decades, the task was considered too strenuous and the women were left on campus to prepare lunch for the men.
Because of less-than-ideal relations between the university and the surrounding community, Y Day was expanded in 1957 to include service projects that targeted city parks, cemeteries, and the homes and yards of the elderly, widowed and invalid.
In the early 1960s, erosion concerns resulted in the cementing of rocks outlining the block "Y," and erosion was again a problem 10 years later. To eliminate the onslaught of thousands of students on the mountainside, the traditional bucket brigade was replaced for a few years with the use of a helicopter to transport ready-mixed whitewash.
In 1974, the whitewash task was resumed by freshmen students as part of orientation activities prior to the start of each winter semester.