The Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging has announced a long-list of 20 semi-finalists in the competition to revise the final line of Harvard’s alma mater. These text entries were selected out of a pool of 168 entries by a subcommittee of the Task Force, with input from the Task Force generally. There were no submissions of musical variants for the alma mater.
These 20 entries work within the constraints of the rhymes, rhythm, and sense of the existing alma mater lyrics to convey the accessibility and value of the pursuit of truth to people from all backgrounds and to affirm the University’s commitment to inclusive excellence. The University community will be able to comment on these entries from Oct. 1-31, via the Solution Space. Thereafter, a panel of distinguished community judges will select three finalists to forward to the University for selection of the final winner, to be announced before the start of spring semester.
While few members of the Harvard community think about the alma mater on a daily basis, a University’s rituals anchor its culture and values. The alma mater is an important element of the University’s repertoire of rituals. It is a living symbol used to welcome each incoming Harvard College class, and to celebrate the conclusion of each class’ journey at Commencement. The Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging launched this competition to affirm that Harvard’s motto, Veritas, speaks to and on behalf of all members of our community, regardless of background, identity, religious affiliation, or viewpoint.
The line to be replaced reads, “Till the stock of the Puritans die.” The metaphor of the final line fails in its own aspiration to project a valuable Puritan commitment to education into the future. The line reduces human experience to biology with the word “stock,” and ties the commitment to education to ethnic lineage and to the rise and fall of racial groupings.
This is not the first time the alma mater has been altered. In 1998, the lyrics were adapted, also through a community competition, to achieve gender inclusivity. The campus community also no longer employs the middle verses of the alma mater, and has not done so for many years.