Opinion | Alma Mater possesses undervalued history


The Daily Illini File Photo

The Universities Alma Mater statue sits at the corner of Wright and Green streets on April 3, 2020. Columnist Noah Nelson argues that Alma Mater holds historic value that is under-appreciated.

By Noah Nelson, Senior Columnist

Located at the corner of Wright and Green streets, to the side of Altgeld Hall and in the heart of campus, the Alma Mater statue endures as one of the most recognizable sites at the University.

Alma Mater depicts a mother figure wearing academic robes and arms stretched out for welcoming, with two attendant figures representing the University’s motto “Learning” and “Labor” behind her. The message etched at the base of the statue reads: “To thy happy children of the future, those of the past send greetings.”

Whether you are a current student or faculty member, alumni or prospective student, certainly you have captured your picture in front of the statue or passed her before. Nevertheless, the statue is legitimately more than a photo opportunity, instead, it is a symbol of the University with a long, rich history akin to the institution.

While home from Paris in 1883, University alum Lorado Taft began sculpting Alma Mater four years after he graduated from the school. Though several years passed, Taft finally searched for funding for the project in 1916 — a year after Lincoln Memorial sculptor Daniel Chester French’s own Alma Mater was unveiled at Columbia University in New York. 

Taft forged a more unique Alma Mater: He aspired for a woman standing from her throne, welcoming her children home while figures “Learning” and “Labor” presided behind her as a symbol for the University and its crucial motto.

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Upon completion, the 10,000-pound and 13- foot tall Alma Mater was dedicated in 1929 and stood on the south side of Foellinger Auditorium until 1962, when it was moved to its current location. Subsequently, Alma Mater has integrated itself as a part of the University, but with a lesson.

We are here on campus to earn a degree and approach the next step toward a better life. Alma Mater teaches us that learning and labor play a pivotal role in our lives, especially during our time at the University. With those skills, we are bettering ourselves every day and in the process, making our university just as proud of us as we are of it.

College is no doubt difficult, especially during a global pandemic. It’s okay to fret and fear not doing as well as you had hoped in a class: We are growing individuals, learning and laboring every day.

If you ever need assistance or just a bit of inspiration, say hello to Alma Mater. No matter what you’re going through, she is there to welcome her children home. And our home is right here at the University of Illinois

Noah is a junior in Media.

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