Thursday, October 20, 2011

A close reading of the Fullerton Union High school Alma Mater song.

The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.

This is the Fullerton Union High Shool Alma Mater song, written in 1912 by Lilah Esmay:

We are proud of all thy prowess, Fullerton,
And we thy colors bravely bear;
We will be thy loyal subjects ever.
Joy and grief we alike will with thee share.

Oh, F.H.S., they name we love,
And ever staunch and true you’ll find us;
We’ll stand by thee, through all eternity—
Thy red and white so true.

We have watched thy progress ever
With hearts so full of love for thee;
We rejoice that in the years before you
Thy future ever brighter still we see.

Men of F.H.S., now grasp your standard—
Ne’er let the glorious emblem fall,
For our red and white must win the conflict
For the honor of the school so dear to all.


I majored in English in college, and a fairly common practice in literature courses is something called a “close reading.” This is where you analyze a poem or a piece of prose by looking very carefully at each line, to understand its meaning, or meanings.

When I was a student at Fullerton Union High School, (1995-1998), the Alma Mater song was painted in large letters on the interior wall of the basketball gym. I never paid much attention to it at basketball games, except to notice that it made little sense to me.

I have decided, as an adult English teacher with a Master’s degree in English, to attempt a close reading of Fullerton Union High School’s Alma Mater song, which was written in 1912 by Lilah Esmay. I will include my commentary after each line:

We are proud of all thy prowess, Fullerton.

Fullerton here is personified as a person capable of doing great deeds of strength (prowess). This is an awkward personification, because Fullerton is an institution, incapable of direct action.

And we thy colors bravely bear.

One wonders how much, if any, courage is required to wear particular colors. This could also be a reference to a flag, as the “color guard” in ROTC would very ceremoniously carry around the American flag. However, FUHS never had a flag that I was aware of. The word “bravely” is ironic, as it could reference the school mascot, the Indian (or “brave”). Later references to color in the song will hi-light ambiguous racial conflict.

We will be thy loyal subjects ever.

This line suggests that, just as medieval serfs were subject to kings, so high school students must eternally submit to their high school. This is an odd comparison, as high school only lasts four years.

Joy and grief we alike will with thee share.

Here, again, the institution of Fullerton is personified as a being who is capable of feeling the emotions of joy and grief. Students are expected to empathize with the supposed “emotions” of an educational institution. This line also implies a kind of marriage between student and institution , which is actually very difficult to visualize.

Oh F.H.S., thy name we love.

To be honest, I never thought Fullerton was a very aesthetically-pleasing name. Sonora is nice. Sunny Hills is pleasant. But not Fullerton. It sounds guttural and Germanic.

And ever staunch and true you’ll find us.

The word “staunch” implies a level of commitment I’m uncomfortable with. The word “ever” again suggests an eternal covenant between student and institution which seems absurd.

We’ll stand by thee, through all eternity—

One wonders how, exactly, students can be expected to remain loyal to an institution for eternity. Will we have to hang out at high school in heaven? Eternal high school? That sounds more like hell.

Thy red and white so true.

In what sense are colors “true”? This is a philosophical question I feel unqualified to even attempt to answer.

We have watched thy progress ever.

This is one of the few lines in the song that makes sense. In 1912, FUHS had indeed “progressed” from a very tiny school to a slightly larger school. That is a historical fact. One question arises, though: “Is growth the same as progress?” Here again we slide into fairly deep and murky philosophical waters.

With hearts so full of love for thee.

As a student, I would not characterize my feelings toward FUHS as “love,” not in the way I loved my family and friends and girlfriend. To what extent can a flesh and blood human being be expected to love a faceless institution? This is a question worth pondering.

We rejoice that in the years before you thy future ever brighter still we see.

These lines have an awkward, Yoda-like structure. They suggest blind optimism about the future.

Men of F.H.S., now grasp your standard.

This line is, of course, sexist in that it excludes women from “standard grasping.” This is a pretty funny, if unintentional, reference to masturbation.

Ne’er let the glorious emblem fall.

Again we have a reference to a flag, a flag I never saw as a student. Was it glorious? I don’t know. And what, exactly, makes a flag glorious? It’s design? If that’s the case, I have to say my favorite flag is Japan’s.

For our red and white must win the conflict.

Here is the ambiguous “conflict” alluded to earlier. I suppose it’s referring to sporting events, since that’s the only conflict high schools engage in. Or is it? Considering Fullerton’s history of racism and discrimination, perhaps this line suggests a larger racial, or cultural, conflict between different groups of people. The fact that the mascot is the Indian, and yet the majority of students at this time were white also suggests this conflict.

For the honor of the school so dear to all.

Here, again, in the last line of the song, we encounter the problem of personification of an institution, which seems to be the underlining metaphor of the Alma Mater song. Students are expected to love and submit to the school institution. This hierarchical relationship suggests a very rigid, authoritarian philosophy of education, one that would be challenged by later 20th century educational theorists like John Dewey and Paolo Friere.

There you have it. My close reading of the FUHS Alma Mater song. In conclusion, this song is archaic, not only in its language, but in the educational philosophy it implies. It’s been almost a hundred years since the song was written. Maybe it’s time to update the Alma Mater song.

fullerton union high school Pictures, Images and Photos

2 comments:

  1. During my years at FUHS ('79-'83) the magic club was named "The Vanishing Indians." You may already know that.

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