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Is Cornell's Motto Really That 'Awful'?

While Cornell may have taken the top spot on Motto's ranking of the best university mottos, The Chronicle of Higher Education has another take:

Writing a snappy slogan is no mean feat, according to Allen P. Adamson, author of BrandSimple: How the Best Brands Keep It Simple and Succeed. Mr. Adamson, whose clients have included Kraft Foods and Procter & Gamble, says colleges need to try something different. "Otherwise you hear it and forget it," he says. "It's best if it's tied to a story, woven into your heritage."

That's certainly true of Cornell University's motto, which was rated No. 1 by Motto. It's a statement made by the university's founder, Ezra Cornell: "I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study." Still, that mouthful leaves Scott White, who runs the Web site Brand Identity Guru, nonplussed. "Wow. Okay. I don't know what to say to that," he says. "I think that's just awful."

There are edgier slogans out there. Plenty of colleges have unofficial mottos, which make their way onto T-shirts and coffee mugs. For instance, Reed College's underground slogan is "Communism, Atheism, Free Love." Students at Swarthmore College experience "Guilt Without Sex." And then there's "Where the Hell Is Grinnell?" and "The University of Chicago: Where Fun Goes to Die."

Myself? I've always liked Ezra's creed. It's a blessing of optimism and pragmatism from a time when education wasn't openly available to all. And when shortened to 'Any Person... Any Study', it becomes an inherently American icon.

As for Cornell's other official mottos or slogans, it's a mixed bag.

Carl Becker's assertion of 'Freedom and Responsibility' as an inherently Cornellian and American trait reverberates well, but somehow it has morphed into 'Freedom with Responsibility'.

But then there is 'Open Hearts, Open Hearts, Open Minds', which basically just makes every student want to open up a garbage can and vomit. When will administrators learn that students don't want to be on the receiving end of forced, explicit indoctrination?

Meanwhile, I have two favorite slogan's on Cornell's campus. The first is found on a bench on the Slope:

To those who shall sit here rejoicing. To those who sit here mourning. sympathy and greeting. so we have done in our time.

While the other is found inscribed next to Eddy Gate:

So enter that daily thou mayest become more learned and thoughtful. So depart that daily thou mayest become more useful to thy country and to mankind.

But perhaps more importantly, what are Cornell's, fun, unofficial mottos? I'm not quite up to speed on the subject, but a couple immediately come to mind:

"Cornell isn't an organization. It's a loose affiliation of independent fiefdoms united by a common hockey team." -- This one floats around the eLynah message boards a lot.

"Cornell: Hell does freeze over." -- This shows up on t-shirts a fair amount.

And then there are the abundance of Ithaca mottos: 'Ithaca is Gorges', 'Ithaca has Orgies', 'Ithaca is Gangsta', 'Ithaca: Ten Square Miles Surrounded By Reality', ad infinitum.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on November 27, 2007 (#)

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