The graduation season is upon us and with it comes songs we only hear at commencement exercises.
One is the alma mater, which varies from school to school. The other is Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” which has evolved into the most used graduation march.
I didn’t know much about alma mater songs until I attended the fifth grade at Social Circle. The school uses the traditional alma mater, and whoever penned the lyrics realized Social Circle High School would be tough to squeeze in.
They reduced it to Social High School. According to their recent handbook, they still sing it that way. The truth is, every high school is a social high school.
At Monroe, where I spent my high school career, our alma mater was to the tune and many of the lyrics to “O, Canada.”
“O, Monroe High, the best school in our land,” we would sing. “True patriot love in all thy sons command.”
The University of Georgia uses the traditional alma mater. They did a nice job with lyrics.
“From the hills of Georgia’s northland, Beams thy noble brow,
And the sons of Georgia rising, pledge with sacred vow,” is the beginning of Georgia’s alma mater.
I’m sure there is still a dispute among English majors as to whether “northland” is a word.
Harvard’s song is set to the Irish classic, “Endearing Young Charms.” They’ve had a few notable grads of Irish heritage and are in Boston, so that works.
I read the University of North Georgia has the lyrics for a new alma mater and the tune is forthcoming.
A few years ago, I attended a graduation at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, where a woman with a very high soprano voice sang a new alma mater. Someone obviously told someone to get every word of the college’s name in the song. I noticed they had ditched it when I attended a graduation last year. For this, we will ever be loyal in giving thanks.
There are terms in alma maters no one really believes. There are many phrases like, “We’ll be true to thee” and “Thee we’ll honor.” A number of recurring themes revolve around courage, truth, valor and wisdom.
I’m proud of the education I received in high school, but I don’t know it was ever the best school in our land. We just sung that because it fit in the space where the Canadians sang “our home and native land.”
In many cases, I think loyalty to major universities is contingent upon the record of the football team and the outcome of recruiting. If a kid leaves for the NFL after three years, do you think he is breaking that sacred vow?
And what will happen as more and more people earn their entire education online? I close with my idea for an online university alma mater.
Hail to thee, my loyal keyboard
Hail to thee, my screen.
For hours I have spent before thee,
Hail to my machine.
For the numbers 1 and 0,
Digits they may be.
I listened from a tiny speaker,
To earn my new degree.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.