BYU graduates its biggest class ever with blue gowns, smiles and jokes about the history of the 'Y' on Provo’s mountainside

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young University Graduates make their way to the Marriott Center for the 144th BYU Commencement, Thursday, April 25, 2019.

When Brigham Young University was founded in 1875, students wanted to mark the Provo location by putting their school’s initials on the mountainside.

They started with the letter “Y” so that it would be centered, said BYU President Kevin Worthen, and they carted bags of sand and limestone hundreds of feet up the hill. Before that first installment was finished, though, many students had passed out from exhaustion and the group decided not to add the “B” or the “U.”

That history, Worthen noted with a laugh, might seem silly. But symbols “ultimately gain meaning in our lives not because of their presence, but because of what we choose to make of them.”

Addressing the school’s 2019 graduating class Thursday morning, he asked the students before him to look at the “Y” and think about hard work, about what’s worth it in life, about what could still come in the future, and about pride.

“As you look at the ‘Y’ on the mountain, I hope you see hope, optimism and faith,” Worthen added.

The nearly 7,000 students in the crowd — wearing caps and gowns and a whole lot of smiles — clapped and cheered.

On Thursday, the private religious school celebrated its biggest graduating class ever. Those receiving degrees come from 49 states (missing only Delaware) and 66 countries. The oldest student was 71 years old. Roughly 53% were male. More than 80% earned bachelor’s degrees.

What they all have in common, Worthen said, is an education. They’ve all passed by the “Y” while they’ve gone to class on campus. Now, he wants them to go into the world and figure out what they want to do and why it matters.