More than 500 students, faculty and community members helped kick off Sonoma State University's year-long celebration of its 50th anniversary by gathering Thursday in a huge formation in the shape of a 50.

The numeral was photographed from the air by a university photographer using a donated airplane.

The event was held at noon on the commencement lawn, where about 2,000 students graduated in May.

The university started with 274 students in 1961 as the Santa Rosa Center of San Francisco State College.

This year, the school has a budget of close to $100 million, student enrollment tops 8,000 and 3,100 students live on the 269-acre campus.

-- Jeremy Hay