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Celebrating Cornell's 157th Anniversary with a Chinese Translation of the Alma Mater

by the Cornell Chinese Students and Scholars Association

Ezra Cornell and Andrew White, with a dream and passion for education, founded Cornell University on farmland in Ithaca 157 years ago. To commemorate Cornell's 157th anniversary, the Cornell Chinese Students and Scholars Association and Cornell REAL A Capella created a Chinese version of the alma mater, Far Above Cayuga's Waters, as a gift to the university.

What can an alma mater carry?

It can be the curiosity and yearning of a newcomer.
It can be a symbol of pride.
It can be the sustenance of students' cherished memory.
A good school song can show the heritage and style of a school.
It can proclaim the ideals and beliefs of its educators.

Aerial view of campus and Cayuga Lake.
Central campus and Cayuga Lake from the air.

The Alma Mater's History

Here is something about Cornell that you may not know—Cornell's alma mater is one of the best-known alma maters in the U.S. and the only one included in Ronald Herder's 500 Best-Loved Song Lyrics.

In 1857, Boston songwriter Henry Thompson composed a ballad memorializing a young girl named Annie Lisle. The beautiful Annie Lisle was "like a lily in the forest," who unfortunately contracted tuberculosis and passed away in her blooming years. 

Thirteen years later, in 1870, two Cornell students, Archibald Weeks (class of 1872) and Wilmot Smith (Class of 1874) wrote new lyrics set to the tune of Annie Lisle, creating Cornell's alma mater, Far Above Cayuga's Waters. While working on the alma mater, Weeks and Smith shortened the song to two verses and added an eighth note to the first measure, achieving a cleaner and smoother melody line composed as a four-part choral score.

Many universities in the U.S., such as Vanderbilt University, College of William and Mary, Indiana University, and the University of North Carolina, subsequently chose to use the same melody for their alma maters.

An Alma Mater Widely Sung

The influence of Cornell's alma mater has gone beyond the United States, flying across the Pacific Ocean to China during the Qing Empire at the beginning of the 20th century, when cultural exchanges between the East and the West were common. New ideas, cultures, technologies, and music from Europe, America, Japan, and other countries were brought into China. These imported melodies were modified with Chinese lyrics and became alma maters for newly established schools. 

Thanks to the catchy melody of our alma mater and the influence of Cornell's educational philosophy of "Any Person, Any Study," more than 127 schools worldwide have used the tune of Far Above Cayuga's Waters to compose their alma mater. 

More than 100 years ago, two Cornellians composed our alma mater and left a global legacy. Today, it is our turn to contribute to Cornell's legacy in our own way and make our alma mater proud.

Music Video Credits

  • Chinese translation: Ryan Shi, Yang Jiao, Mengye Yang, Yuqi Cheng
  • Production: REAL ACA x CSSA
  • Coordinator: Cadigan Li, Ryan Shi
  • Director: Yuou Jiang
  • Supervisor: Cadigan Li, Zexu Du
  • Video Script: Yuou Jiang, Ryan Shi, Zhixuan Ye
  • Photographer: Chuhao Gong
  • Drone: Haoyuan Ma
  • Video editing: Yuou Jiang
  • Music recording: Nina Yang, Zexu Du
  • Mixing: Nina Yang
  • Music director: Nina Yang, Rae Chen
  • Lead Vocal team: Nina Yang, Rae Chen, Cadigan Li, Zexu Du, Runyu Cai, Jiayang Yin, Jiayi Chen, Wenji Zheng, Haodong Pan, Yunjie Liu, Kexin Ju, Xiangyi You, Zhaosong Zhou
  • Choir: Wanyue Deng, Tong Liu, Yuanzhi Wang, Yuou Jiang, Fangyi Shi, Shi Feng, Helen Hu, Jingfan Xiao, Zhixuan Ye, Yuhao Lu, Rongyi He, Zilu Li, Jialu Li, Xiaoyu Liang, Biao Wang, Ren Zhang, Yang Du, Pengzhu Lin, Ziyu Liu

Participating student organizations:

  • Amber Dance Troupe 
  • Cornell Lion Dance
  • Cornell ProYos
  • Cornell University Chinese Basketball Club