No One Is Spared!

By Sean Carroll | June 15, 2010 11:35 am

Caltech had its commencement ceremony last Friday, and I donned a cap and gown to march up on stage with the other faculty members. It’s always a great day, as years of work comes to fruition for several hundred students, ready to move on to the next stage of their careers.

Naturally, there was singing. The Glee Club sent spirits soaring with the Caltech alma mater, “Hail CIT.”

In southern California with grace and splendor bound,
Where the lofty mountain peaks look out to lands beyond,
Proudly stands our alma mater, glorious to see.
We raise our voices proudly, hailing, hailing thee.
Echos ringing while we’re singing, over land and sea.
The hall of fame resound thy name, noble CIT.

The one that got my attention, however, was the other song — Gaudeamus Igitur, apparently a “traditional college song.” How have I spent so many years in academia without coming across this one? It was sung in Latin, but a helpful translation into English was provided.

Therefore let us rejoice
While we are young
After pleasant youth,
After troublesome old age,
The earth will have us.

Where are they who before us
Were in the world?
You can cross the heavens,
You can go to hell,
If you wish to see them.

Our life is brief,
Shortly it will end.
Death comes quickly,
It snatches us cruelly,
No one is spared.

Long live the academy!
Long live the professors!
Long live each student!
Long live all students!
May they always flourish!

Cheerful, no? We’re all going to die, but at least the university will live on. Comforting.

And now Wikipedia informs me that a few verses were apparently left out of our version. To wit:

Long live all girls
Easy and beautiful!
Long live mature women also,
Tender and lovable
Good [and] productive,

Long live the state as well
And he who rules it!
Long live our city
[And] the charity of benefactors
Which protects us here!

Let sadness perish!
Let haters perish!
Let the devil perish!
Let whoever is anti-student
As well as the mockers!

So they left out the bits that were veering uncomfortably close to sexism, fascism, and serial killer-ism. I’m thinking they didn’t want the ceremony to drag on for too long.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Academia, Music, Words
  • Matt

    Crazy. There are several chapter headings in Infinite Jest that included “Gaudeamus Igitur” as a subheading. Always wondered what that meant. Thanks! Now I have to go reread those parts.

  • Non-Believer

    It might be time to come up with some new college songs. Or at least leave off the translation in the brochures so they sound pompous and we can make up our own translation. (or those of us who don’t know latin)

  • Stephen P

    For an unsurpassed orchestral arrangement of this and other college songs:

  • Mark

    The song exemplifies the right touch of seriousness and levity that the Caltech commencement ceremony possessed. The gasps and titters that spread through the audience as people read along with the translation during the singing was priceless. Great choice.

  • Sili

    I think it was Brahms that wrote an academic ouverture or something like it incorporating Gaud Ig as a thanks when he got an h.c.

    Gaud Ig is de rigeur in for Danish High School dimissions/translocations. Naturally, I’ve never learnt it.

  • Toma Susi

    What? I guess it’s a pretty much European tradition then, but for example in Finland we have sung that for the high school graduates since the first time we had any. And I think it’s still quite common in many other countries too.

    Well, it IS from 1287 (or even earlier), so I guess that explains something 😉

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    Well, as sexism goes, it could be worse. I mean, “tender and lovable” may be a bit condescending, and “easy” a tad crass, but the overall sentiment is about as well-wishing as I could ever expect from that era. Contemporary authorities like Thomas Aquinas were convinced women were a kind of natural “mistake”, a sort of misbegotten, retarded product of inadequate warmth during pregnancy, but for which maleness and full human potential would have been achieved. I guess this was a common view among learned medieval men. Amazing they had anything nice to say at all.

  • Jon

    I had no idea that Caltech even *had* an alma mater. Was this added since I left in 1987?

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  • Good Ole Charlie

    Yes, the lyrics were the alma mater that I remember singing at Tech football games in the era 1953 to 1957…eons ago…

  • Daedalus

    If any regular readers of this blog remember the fun that was had during the Frank Tipler article, you should check out the debate going on at Wikipedia over the Omega Point article…

  • Pieter Kok

    I had no idea that Caltech even *had* an alma mater.

    Caltech is the alma mater (“nourishing mother”) to anybody who went there.

  • Mantis

    Gaudeamus Igitur is perfect. Sang for at least 800 years, it’s a connection with past and future generations of students, showing how similar we are.
    Great tradition.

    Sean: “Cheerful, no? We’re all going to die, but at least the university will live on. Comforting.”

    Certainly more comforting then the vapidness of Hail CIT. What would be more comforting to you? Promise of an eternal life?

  • Blake Stacey

    A thought occurs: with those extra verses, this song would be perfect for an Ominous Latin Chanting rendition.

    Turn on the spigot
    Pour the beer and swig it
    And gaudeamus igit-ur!

    — Tom Lehrer, “Bright College Days”

  • Stolen Dormouse

    I don’t remember there being a Caltech alma mater song circa 1970, just the football fight song:

    We never falter, we never fall.
    We sober up on wood alcohol,
    While the loyal faculty lie
    Drunk inside Dabney Hall!

    … That and the “Ride of the Valkyries,” played at full volume by anyone with a strong sound system at 7:00 a.m. of the first morning of finals week. I gather that was done to wake up one of the Caltech-grad astronauts during a mission.

  • Signal

    “We’re all going to die, but at least the university will live on. Comforting.”

    Going back a century or more, universities are among the few surviving institutions — certain governments, universities, religious institutions, and not a lot else.

  • Georg

    “How have I spent so many years in academia without coming across this one? ”
    Good question.
    The German entry in Wikipedia says:
    Das Lied wird heute vor allem von Studentenverbindungen in Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz, sowie in den meisten östlichen und westlichen NachbarlĂ€ndern gesungen. An der Katholischen UniversitĂ€t Löwen in Belgien ist das Lied offizieller Programmpunkt bei der Eröffnung des Akademischen Jahres, wo es in Gegenwart des Rektors gesungen wird.
    An einigen US-amerikanischen Colleges und UniversitÀten ist das Lied auch bei Examensfeiern zu hören. So gehört es auch zum festen Repertoire des Studentenchors der UniversitÀt Yale, der entsprechende Aufnahmen auf TontrÀgern veröffentlicht.

  • Belizean


    The Caltech Alma Mater defintely predates 1987. Pretty much the only students who knew about it were those of us in Glee Club, however.

    The Glee Club also sang Gaudeamus Igitur well before ’87. Ask anyone who was around in the days of long-time Caltech Glee Club diretor Olaf Frodsham.

  • Cath the Canberra Cook

    It’s a staple of university choirs in Australia. Not much known by any other students :)

  • T.

    It appeared at all graduation ceremonies of universities that I’ve been to in New Zealand. We only sang the first and last verses. Much more pleasant and upbeat 😉

  • John

    I think that the Gaudeamus Igitur is a huge improvement over what came before for Commencement songs. You should know that there was a time during which the Caltech Glee Club sang the Hallelujah chorus with the original lyrics during Commencement. After some donors protested its religious nature, the lyrics were rewritten by the choral directors to salute the glory of Caltech instead. As another former member of Glee Club, I can attest to the overall distaste of the singers towards the revised version. They even had the lyric “remit a sum”, imploring donors to keep donating to Caltech.

    oh, and by the way, not to take this too far off-topic, but what laws of physics state that sexism, fascism, and serial killer-ism are topics to be avoided? And why is the idea that we’re all going to die something that requires comfort? Of course, these are questions that the university should answer, not necessarily anyone here at CW, since they brought up Gaudeamus Igitur.

  • Evan Murphy

    I too was a Caltech Glee Club member, undergrad, about 2002-2007. For many years, as John said, it was Handel’s Hallelujah chorus, but it wasn’t that long ago: up until 2005, I think. Both the Glee Club members and many students enjoyed performing and hearing it at graduation, and I personally never heard any complaints. It’s a beautiful piece of music, and our singing it was certainly not religiously motivated.

    We were told that it was a group of grad students who complained about the religious aspect of the song, but in any case, the word came down from the administration that we couldn’t sing it anymore. The men’s choral director and a faculty member put the spoof lyrics together so that we could keep the music and the actual chorus of hallelujahs, which seemed to be what some students wanted, but no one was happy about it.

    I suppose Gaudeamus is probably better than the spoof Hallelujah lyrics, but I’d be happy to see a return to the original Handel.

  • bob

    IIRC I first heard it when it was occasionally sung (in Latin, so I didn’t know what it meant, but it sounded impressive to a young kid) on the wonderful radio/television show Halls of Ivy featuring the very British Ronald Coleman – some of the radio show are available at


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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