‘While we raise our grateful song’

There’s wisdom in UND’s ‘Alma Mater,’ especially in the song’s theme of gratitude, President Armacost notes in letter and video

A letter from UND President Andy Armacost to the campus community:


Please watch my video (which is above, and a transcript of which is below).

I want to be a NoDak. What I mean by that is that I want to learn all I can about the history and traditions of the University of North Dakota. Yes, I have a long way to go, but in the past month since Kathy and I have been on campus, we’ve enjoyed walking Sadie around UND, meeting people (Hi, Matt and Bella!), and absorbing as much as we can about the University and those who made it great.

For example, whether I am in Twamley Hall or at University House, I’m treated at noon to the strains of the song “Alma Mater.” It was written by John Macnie, a Scottish-born and educated professor who taught at UND from 1885 to 1903. He taught French and German, but was also fluent in other languages and literature. He taught math and philosophy as well.

The first two lines of “Alma Mater” are:

Hail to thee, O Alma Mater! Hail to thee with heart and tongue!
Pride we feel and love yet greater, While we raise our grateful song.

A century later, these words resonate with me because they express the importance of gratitude. I want this to be a contagious idea on our campus. Saying thanks to those who go out of their way to make our University, our students, our faculty, our staff, our community, and our state better should become a habit.

Whether it’s through giving or through volunteering, we should be gracious to those who those who help the University. We should never be shy about expressing our gratitude.

I’ve been reading the biography of John D. Odegard, the founder of UND’s School of Aerospace Sciences, which bears his name today. What a fascinating individual! It’s interesting to contrast how university programs were launched 40 years ago with how we do things today.

Odegard got NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin – the second person to ever walk on the moon – to come to UND to help organize a space education program. As a result of Odegard’s visionary efforts in the early 1980s, we have Professor Pablo de Leon in our Space Studies Department designing space suits and conducting experiments for NASA’s deep-space exploration program. It also positions UND’s Aerospace School to pursue opportunities with the newly formed U.S. Space Force.

As I familiarize myself with UND’s campus and its history, I start thinking about opportunities. For example, North Dakota is a state without a literary landmark. We have graduates from our University who became famous in the literary world. I can envision a literary landmark honoring such a person at a symbolic campus location – this is an idea worth exploring!

While I was at the U.S. Air Force Academy, I was fascinated with its mid-century modern architecture to the point where I became a bit of an aficionado. I know UND is part of a historic district that includes late 19th and 20th century revivals architecture. There’s another opportunity for me to explore one of my interests and become even more knowledgeable about the rich history of UND.

I have begun my journey to becoming a NoDak. I look forward to sharing with you and learning more about the history and traditions of our University.

President Andy Armacost


(Transcript of President Armacost’s video follows:)

Hi, this is Andy Armacost.

I wanted to share with you a bit of my journey to understand the rich history of the University of North Dakota. As I’ve been gathering information and hearing stories from so many, there’s one document – and actually one song – that really has caught my attention.

That is the UND Alma Mater.

In particular, there’s a line in there that caught my attention. It was about raising “our grateful song.”

When I read that, I thought, ‘What a perfect phrase that we should all keep in mind: a song of gratitude.” And so today, I wanted to talk about three things that I’m grateful for.

The first is the service of Tom DiLorenzo to our university.

Tom served as provost for seven years and his career in higher education spanned much longer than that. Tom, of course, as you know, passed away last Friday (July 17) in a tragic situation in Charleston, South Carolina.

And so we remember Tom, his wife Suzanne and their family at this time.

The second bit of gratitude I’d like to offer is the gratitude to all those who have supported Kathy and me in our transition to UND.

We’ve had so many welcoming faces and helping hands along the way that she and I wanted to just say thank you for all that you’ve done to make our transition go so smoothly.

And the final bit of gratitude — and it’s not just a bit of gratitude, it’s a ton of gratitude — go out to all the people who have been involved in responding to COVID and the pandemic, preparing our campus for reopening this fall. There have been countless people who have been involved, whether it’s faculty members who received a great shout out in UND Today on Tuesday, or the many many staff members who have been involved in so many ways.

And so let me amplify my gratitude to the staff members who have been contributing so much to our COVID response. Whether it’s our Student Health Services or whether it’s dining services facilities and so forth. Whether it’s all the staff members who are supporting a wide variety of functions across the campus, your work is immeasurable. Your work deserves all of our gratitude because of how it’s helping helping us open the campus for this fall.

And as we all go forward, let’s think about ways that we can sing our grateful song to others by paying it forward.

So when you interact with others and they do something that you should appreciate, make sure you reach out to them and say a simple thank you.

I know they’ll appreciate it. And there’s no better way to pay it forward than to think about the grateful actions we can take as we try to open the campus with minimum risk this fall.

So as we do that, we ask you to take the steps to make sure that you keep your distance from others, wearing a face covering when interacting with others, to avoid large gatherings and to make sure that when the opportunities for testing come that you take advantage of them.

The way that will control the spread of the virus is identifying it and knocking it down. You play a huge role in doing that.

Hold your friends accountable too. Hold your peers accountable. Hold your colleagues accountable and ask them to take the same steps that you are.

This is a way that we can express gratitude and show our appreciation for all. And that is, let’s take care of each other, let’s open safely this fall, and let’s make sure we minimize the risk of the spread of this pandemic.

I look forward to seeing you this fall!