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Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Students and young fans dance Monday as Gracin and other musicians perform at the ballpark.

It was better than New Year's.

All the traditional things were there: good food, cheap drinks, big country stars, fireworks and dancing late into the night. But by the time Utah Valley State College finished cleaning up after its 15,000 guests Monday, it had more than a couple of flimsy New Year's resolutions. It had a new identity.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Utah Valley University.

"It's been a smooth transition," said UVU President William Sederburg, of the 18 months since the Utah Legislature officially approved the status change. During that time, the school has redefined its mission, completed a new 190,000-square-foot library and designed graduate programs.

But Sederburg is not taking credit for anything. He thanks the community.

"We had the unanimous vote of the Senate and the House of Representatives," he said. "We had the support of the governor. The whole state of Utah rallied around Utah Valley University."

Today, the university will formally celebrate the status change with speeches by community leaders, including President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

But Monday, Sederburg declared, was "a party day."

Country stars Collin Raye, Josh Gracin and Joe Nichols headlined a concert Monday night in the Brent Brown Ballpark. During the day, thousands wandered around the campus for a carnival-like Family Fun Fair.

Families laid blankets in the outfield to watch the concert. College students practiced their country swing dance moves between first and second base. At times, everyone was clapping in time to the music.

Tickets to the sold-out concert ranged in price from $5 to $10 — a bargain the poor college students among the crowd appreciated.

"This is good music and a great deal," said Jake Farnsworth, a 22-year-old UVU sophomore studying engineering. He dressed up in flannel and a cowboy hat to see Gracin.

The rest of the day's activities, which included inflatable playground equipment, local entertainment and miniclasses at the new library, were free.

"We threw this party to say 'thank you' to the community for their continued support," said assistant to the president Cameron Martin. "We just wanted to celebrate together. We wanted to play."

Seven-year-old Ethan Stemmons did just that. He and his two siblings bounced away the afternoon on inflatable slides and jungle gyms.

"I did a race and I won," he said, pointing to a piece of playground equipment. "And I even raced against a daddy."

Angel Busath, 49, ate a dinner on the lawn during the family fun fair. Partygoers could purchase everything from hot dogs to gourmet roasted meat and pineapple.

"This is great," said Busath. "I've been planning on coming here for weeks."

It wasn't just the party she was waiting for, though. Busath, who lives a few blocks from UVU, was excited for her hometown school to be a university.

"It's not going to be 'little BYU' anymore," she said. "It may take awhile, but it's going to stand on its own two feet."

Some partygoers speculated that the school's status change will attract more business and boost the economy.

"It's a great thing for the whole valley," said Lynda Slater, who lives in Orem. "It will make it a better place to live. It will open doors for local students."

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