“I would found an institution…”


While Ezra Cornell expressed the words of the motto in his inaugural speech, its wording first appears on the original great seal, authorized by the trustees in November of 1866 and adopted as the corporate seal on October 6, 1868. A letter from Ezra Cornell to Andrew Dickson White, February 23, 1868, accompanied by preliminary sketches, includes the first mention of the motto.

Great Seal

The original great seal was authorized by the trustees in November 1866 and also adopted as the corporate seal on October 6, 1868. The seal first appeared on the cover of The Cornell University Register, 1868-69. It always included the motto of the University. In 1940, the trustees mandated that: “The great seal of Cornell University ... shall bear in the outer circle the words Cornell University and Founded A.D. 1865; and in the inner circle the words Ezra Cornell ‘I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study’ and in the center a profile likeness of Ezra Cornell.”

The great seal of the University was to be used only for diplomas issued by Cornell University. The corporate seal – smaller, and without the motto - could be used for all other official documents of the University requiring the use of a seal.

F. L. Bennett ’05 manufactured college seals and other novelties in Rochester. The seals, in bronze, mounted on quartered oak shields, were advertised in the Cornellian.


An emblem of the University was selected by the University Faculty Committee on Insignia and adopted by the trustees in 1911. It was designed for all non-official uses by printers, engravers, and others, and did not replace the official seal. The original emblem included the shields of the United States and the State of New York above an open book with the motto. Currently, the Cornell logo includes the insignia and the words “Cornell University.” The Campus Store sold decals, coasters, pennants, matchbooks, and other novelties with the emblem.

Alma Mater or Cornell Hymn

Archibald C. Weeks ʼ72 and his roommate, Wilmot M. Smith ‘74, took great pleasure in singing together a lugubrious ballad of the period, Annie Lisle. As Weeks reminisced in a letter to University Librarian George W. Harris: “I proposed that we adapt a College Song to the music, and suggested the first two lines of the first verse; [Smith] responded with the third and fourth, I with the fifth and sixth and he with the seventh and eighth. The chorus was the result of mutual suggestion....” (A. C. Weeks to George William Harris, January 18, 1887.)

Listen to the Cornell Alma Mater:


At the opening of the University in 1868, Jennie McGraw presented a chime of nine bells to Cornell University.

Listen to the Cornell Changes, also known as the Jennie McGraw Rag:

The Rag is the first song played at each morning's chimes concert.
More sounds of the Cornell chimes

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