Harvard University has opened a pair of competitions for all its students, staff and faculty aiming to give the institution’s alma mater an update to its lyrics and create an alternative that is in line with modern sensibilities.
The aim is to amend the final line of “Fair Harvard,” the 181-year-old alma mater, which reads “Till the stocks of the Puritans die” since its composition in 1836. The Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging made the announcement during a three-hour event the task force held last week in Sanders Theater.
The university officials would no longer want the word “Puritans” including the lines “Be the herald of light and the bearer of love, till the stock of the Puritans dies” to appear in the lyrics of the school’s storied anthem.
According to the Herald Crimson, the school’s daily student newspaper, the winning lyrics will be picked by a committee, which was convened last September to evaluate Harvard’s efforts in creating an inclusive environment and to recommend improvements.
In addition to the amendment of lyrics to its alma mater, another competition will be held aiming to create a modern version of the school’s alma mater. According to Harvard’s task force website, the goal of the contest is to affirm what is valuable in the past while also re-inventing that past to meet and speak to the present moment. It also points to take inspiration from “Hamilton.” In other words, all contest participants are enjoined to use their imagination.
Though the lines seem antiquated in present time, university officials and experts said it traced back to Harvard’s roots. The institution was put up in 1636 by Puritans, in part to train ministers.
Samuel Gilman wrote “Fair Harvard,” Class of 1811, with two of its verses is sung as the university’s alma mater. The last line, according to Stephen Burt, a professor of English at Harvard who will help judge the rewrite submissions, could be interpreted as being complicit with racism. Accordingly, he states, it is not a message they want to send.
This would be the second time the song would be revised. Back in 1998, “thy sons” was replaced with “we” to make it more gender-inclusive.