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Power Ranking The Lyrics Of The Alma Mater

Penn State’s timeless alma mater is well-known and loved by student and alumni alike. The alma mater was written by Fred Lewis Pattee, a former professor of American Literature, in 1901.

As a whole, the song is a beautifully constructed — but there’s a reason you remember some lines and mumble the words to others. Here is our power ranking of the lines of the Alma Mater, from worst* to best.

*Worst is used lightly here. Every line is uniquely meaningful, and I mean no disrespect to the great Pattee, who I’m convinced is one of the greatest songwriters of all time, right up there with Bob Dylan and Kanye West.

Without further adieu, let’s begin.

(Dis)honorable mention:

Thou didst mold us dear old State,
Into men, into men.

The original ending to the third verse had some objectionable wording. However, Mr. Pattee did include in his posthumously-released autobiography that he recommended changing the words in the future to a repeat of “dear old State,” as has been the case since 1975.

8. Rest, O Mother, dear with thee,
All with thee, all with thee.

This is the line that resonates the least with me, personally. It sounds poetic and important, but who or what is it about? Is the mother referenced supposed to be Penn State? Or literally Mrs. Pattee? Either way, I couldn’t find the answer in my research, and am prepared to accept the torching I’m going to receive in the comments section for this.

7. For the future that we wait,
Raise the song, raise the song.

“Raise the song” is a great line, but waiting for the future isn’t very State. In fact, the line stirred up a small controversy a few years ago, when Penn State alum Brian Canada explained in an email to the Executive Director of the Alumni Association, “That sounds awfully passive for a university that wants to position itself as a leader in research and innovation, doesn’t it? … If Penn State students are truly out to ‘make life better,’ as one of our more recent taglines has suggested, then why would we sing about *waiting* for the future?”

It’s a great line, but not particularly applicable to most Nittany Lions. Should Penn State wait to raise millions of dollars a year for THON? Should we wait another year for our women’s volleyball team to establish itself as a dynasty? Nah, Mr. Pattee, we’re a school of action.

6. Thou didst mold us dear old State,
Dear old State, dear old State.

Thou didst in fact mold us, dear old State! Unfortunately, this lyric is reminiscent of a Black Eyed Peas level of repetitiveness (no offense to BEP fans), not the Lennon-esque poetry we’ve come to expect from Pattee. Still, of course, the improvement to a gender-neutral lyric was nice.

Also, have y’all ever looked at a word long enough that it just looks weird? It doesn’t look like “dear” is a real word right now.

5. May our lives but swell thy fame,
Dear old State, dear old State.

Indeed. Penn State is by nearly every measure one of the top universities in the world. As a premier institution it should be all Penn State students’ goal to swell its fame.

4. Sing our love and loyalty,
Sing our hopes that bright and free.

Cracking the top half of the list is the alma mater’s mission statement. Correct, lyric, that is what we are doing – singing our love, loyalty, and hopes. We’re just praising Penn State, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

3. When we stood at childhood’s gate,
Shapeless in the hands of fate.

Another history lesson: This line was originally “boyhood’s gate,” but was also made gender-neutral in 1975. Anyways, it’s another very powerful line. Before college, who really knew what they wanted to do or where they wanted to go? But there we were, shapeless, until Penn State took us along, educated us, and walked us through the metaphorical gate, if you will.

2. For the Glory of Old State,
For her founders strong and great.

Pattee essentially wrote the perfect exposition with this opening line and gave Penn State a great catchphrase in “For the Glory” in the process. Old State sure is glorious, as are her founders, eh?

1. May no act of ours bring shame
To one heart that loves thy name.

Could number one be anything else? This lyric is Sam Ficken in overtime. This is a Casey Bailey one-timer from the slot. This is Joe Paterno, petting a squirrel and drinking a beer on the Old Main lawn. This line is as stately as it gets, not only with the lyrics following JoePa’s “Success with Honor” mantra, but also in delivery. Nothing beats the student section at Beaver Stadium, arm in arm, yelling these words, and overflowing with pride.

About the Author

Doug Leeson

Doug is a sophomore and Onward State's Assistant Managing Editor. Dislikes: popcorn, Rutgers, and a low #TimberCount. Likes: "Frozen," Rec Hall, and you. Contact him via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @DougLeeson.


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