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Harvard announces change to lyrics of school’s alma mater

Josh Reynolds for the Boston Globe

At Harvard University, changes have been made to the nearly two-century-old hymn sung by students and graduates during celebratory moments at the school.

The university announced this week that a portion of the lyrics to its alma mater, “Fair Harvard,” have been tweaked slightly so that the words are more inclusive to the school’s diverse community.

The lyrics “Till the stock of the Puritans die,” the last verse in the 181-year-old song, will be replaced with the line “till the stars in the firmament die,” according to the Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging, a university group that launched a competition last year and solicited suggestions for revisions from faculty, staff, and current and former students.


The goal of the competition, according to the task force website, was to “produce a final line that connects the University’s valuable heritage . . . to a future in which that inheritance is passed on to all.” Three finalists, including the winner, were announced in December.

“Fair Harvard” was first written in 1836 by alumnus Samuel Gilman for the school’s bicentennial celebration.

The stand-out sentence to replace Gilman’s lyric was submitted by Janet Pascal, a graduate of the class of 1984. The updated version of the alma mater already appears on the school’s website, along with a notation about the revision.

Pascal’s suggestion was selected by a panel of judges that included Marcyliena Morgan, professor of African and African American Studies; Steph Burt, professor of English; and Kurt Crowley, the associate conductor of the popular Broadway play, “Hamilton.”

Danielle S. Allen, a professor and co-chairwoman of the task force, said in a statement that the revised alma mater “beautifully connects respect for our ancestors in the first stanza to an affirmation that any and all can embrace Harvard’s enduring commitment to light and love, to truth and the good of humankind.”


The swap was announced this week as part of the 53-person task force’s report on ways the school can improve its culture. The group, convened by outgoing President Drew Faust , came up with eight key points to enact change on campus.

In a statement to the school community this week, Faust said she was grateful for the group’s work. And, when the occasion arises to sing the anthem, she won’t hold back.

“When it comes time to sing our alma mater, updated at the suggestion of the task force, I will proudly give voice to the song’s new final line — and its recognition that the pursuit of truth and knowledge belongs to everyone at Harvard, from all backgrounds and beliefs,” Faust said.

It’s not the first time the lyrics to the Alama Mater have been changed. In 1998, following a similar contest, a line that read “Thy sons to thy jubilee throng” was modified to read, “We join in thy jubilee throng,” striking a gender balance.

Below are the “Longlisted Entries” the judges considered before making a final decision:

1. Brightly shining, ever glorified.

2. Till the end of the ages draws nigh.

3. O for this we forever will strive.

4. Till the darkness of ignorance dies.

5. Be our haven that never shall die.

6. While the banners of Veritas fly.


7. Lest the glory of Veritas die.

8. For each creature of land, sea, or sky.

9. As True North guides our way from on high.

10. ’Til the stars cease to brighten the sky.

11. Till the stars in the firmament die.

12. Veritas be Thy Destiny’s guide.

13. Veritas be Thy Ancestor’s pride.

14. Lest the hope of the Puritans die.

15. And let Veritas — Truth — never die.

16. Till the mind and compassion ally.

17. Like the sun’s blessed light in the sky.

18. Lest the hopes of our ancestors die.

19. Setting wisdom and justice on high.

20. Pressing steadfastly onward for aye.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.