Not Just Your Lux or My Veritas

Lots of LUX.

How much do you think you know about your alma mater? So you can sing all the lyrics of “Bright College Years.” Check. You found your way around the Science Hill. Four checks for you, Glen Coco, you go Glen Coco. You have mastered how to respectfully walk out of class during shopping period. CHECK!

If you have gathered this much wisdom, then it probably does not escape you that our school motto is “Urim and Thummim,” which is Hebrew for “Lux et Veritas,” which in turn is just Latin for “Light and Truth.” Emblazoned in the Yale seal, in these two ancient languages, the words convey the most concise and rudimentary expression of the University’s mission: to enlighten the minds of its young students and impart to them truth through knowledge. Even if we consider this to be Yale’s absolute goal, we still cannot claim full possession of this mantra.

Here in the Elm City and beyond the Northeastern sycamores, one can find plenty of lux and veritas to go around. Yale and at least three other universities in the United States share the same motto and each particular “Lux et Veritas” comes with its own nebulous origin.

YALE UNIVERSITY

Yale, a school that began as a training ground for Christian ministers, includes Hebrew characters in its seal, suggesting that its singular open book actually depicts a Hebrew bible. According to Dan Oren’s “Joining The Club: A History of Jews and Yale,” the seal was selected in 1736, a century before Harvard selected its three-booked “Veritas” motto in 1843. As for the Latin juxtaposed with the Hebrew, it still remains a chicken or egg question — it’s unclear which wording originated with the logo, or if both came about together.

INDIANA UNIVERSITY — various campuses in Indiana

Originally adopted in 1841, this seal also features one open book in its center, surrounded by a sun and the motto. The question remains about the religious nature of this book. Perhaps the words of Indiana University President William Daily provided some elucidation, in a 1856 speech where he described the school seal as “a representation of God’s open Bible, pouring forth in every direction the living rays of ‘Light and Truth.’ And the motto which every graduate will carry away with him on his Diploma will be ‘Light and Truth.’ ”

MARIETTA COLLEGE — Marietta, Ohio

This school’s board of trustees authorized the use of a seal in 1833. It wasn’t until 1877 when its present representation was adopted, according to Arthur Beach’s “A Pioneer College: The Story of Marietta.” Their crest now embellishes the brick sidewalk outside one of their libraries, with a legend akin to Yale’s “Branford Seal.” “Students believe that if one accidentally steps on the seal, it adds one year to the length that it takes for him or her to graduate from Marietta,” said Gi Smith, an editor at Marietta’s college relations department.

CHOWAN UNIVERSITY — Murfreesboro, North Carolina

Hargus Taylor, Chowan historian, said the first reference to the school’s motto appeared in the cover of the college yearbook in 1913. “It has been my assumption, and only an assumption, that the motto as it appears on the college seal was probably adopted at the time the name of the institution was changed from ‘Chowan Baptist Female Institute’ to ‘Chowan College’ in 1910,” Taylor explained.

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