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Why are Harvard diplomas printed in Latin?

catchtwentythreecatchtwentythree Posts: 850Registered User Member
edited May 2012 in Harvard University
I was looking at my uncle's diploma the other day, and at first I couldn't tell what I was looking at. The only thing I could read was his name, because apparently they printed the rest of it in Latin.

My first thought was, "how elite can you get, printing something in an extinct language that normal people can't read."

I meant to ask him why, but it slipped my mind.

Furthermore, why does it say "veritas" on the little shield in the top left corner? Doesn't verity mean truth? (Is that Harvard's motto or something?)

Just curious.
Post edited by catchtwentythree on
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Replies to: Why are Harvard diplomas printed in Latin?

  • QuantMechQuantMech Posts: 5,178Registered User Senior Member
    I'm very normal. I can also read Latin. The interesting question is: Does Harvard supply an official English translation, and if they do, does the translation actually say the same thing as the Latin? Yale's doesn't, quite.
  • mathmommathmom Posts: 22,934Registered User Senior Member
    veritas is also Latin.

    As far as I know the reason they are in Latin is because when Harvard was founded the primary purpose of a college education was to learn Latin and Greek. Diplomas were written in Latin as a standard that dates back to Oxford and Cambridge at least.
  • danstearnsdanstearns Posts: 333Registered User Member
    Yes, Harvard's motto is 'Veritas'. When Yale was founded some 70 years later they also went with "Veritas', but in true 'wait, there's more!" fashion included "Lux"

    So at Harvard you get Truth, but at Yale, if you order in the next 15 minutes, you get Truth AND Light!
  • MSMDADMSMDAD Posts: 828Registered User Member
    The Bachelor of Arts that my DD received last year is not in Latin. It reads:

    HARVARD UNIVERSITY
    At Cambridge in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
    The President and Fellows of Harvard College, with the consent of
    the Honorable and Reverend Board of Overseers and acting on
    the recommendation of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, have conferred on

    FIRST NAME MIDDLE NAME SURNAME

    the degree of Bachelor of Art
    ZZZZXXX laude in XXXXXXX and YYYYYYYY

    In witness whereof........
  • catchtwentythreecatchtwentythree Posts: 850Registered User Member
    My google search yielded this:

    As Diplomas Change from Latin to English, Students Join in Protest | News | Commencement 2011 | The Harvard Crimson

    Apparently the diplomas are no longer being printed in Latin, which still doesn't explain why the tradition was kept alive for so long.

    Maybe Harvard just loves Latin:
    There was a staggering amount of Latin spoken at the Harvard Commencement exercises. In fact, entire 10-minute speeches were delivered in Latin. Now that’s devotion to a dead language. The speeches, while spoken in Latin, were translated into English on the programs and were actually quite hilarious. The speeches were all inside jokes, jabs at Yale, funny stories, and more. Fun fact: Only graduating seniors and graduate students are given translations of the Latin speech. So unless you’re versed in the ancient language, you’re out of luck.

    The 8 Coolest Things About Harvard Commencement | Edudemic

    Latin = sentimental value?
  • gadadgadad Posts: 7,748Super Moderator Senior Member
    Maybe Harvard just loves Latin

    Indeed! Check out the second verse of the fight song (the Latin faculty surely does NOT approve):

    Illegitimum Non Carborundum;
    Domine salvum fac.
    Illegitimum Non Carborundum;
    Domine salvum fac.
    Gaudeamus igitur!
    Veritas non sequitur?
    Illegitimum non Carborundum -- ipso facto!
    Yes, Harvard's motto is 'Veritas'

    Or, if you prefer:

    . . . VER . . . RI . . .

    . . . . . . TAS . . . . . :)
  • SikorskySikorsky Posts: 5,851Registered User Senior Member
    My diploma dates back to the 1980s, and it's in English. (Yeah, I know catchtwentythree already found the Crimson article about the switch from Latin to English in 1961, but I'm chiming in anyway. So sue me.) But my sister-in-law's Yale diploma (also from the '80s) is in Latin.

    (And, gadad, I don't think anybody--not even the band, who distribute and popularize them--thinks those words are actually a second verse of "Ten Thousand Men of Harvard.")
  • zapfinozapfino Posts: 2,465Registered User Senior Member
    Universities originated in the Middle Ages. Latin was the language of scholarship (at least in the Western world) until several centuries later. Use of Latin on the diplomas represents the great legacy of the medieval universities.

    A family member, who attended Boston College, also has a Latin diploma. I’m not sure if BC’s diplomas are still in Latin.

    Harvard’s original motto was “Veritas Cristo et Ecclesiae” which means “Truth for Christ and the Church.” I’m not sure when they shortened it to “Veritas”.

    At the Harvard commencement, the salutatorian delivers an address in Latin:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47u6IJ2GVdM&feature=related

    The medieval student song in Latin, Gaudeamus Igitur, is sung at many high school and university commencements. In fact, it is known at universities all over the world. It particularly seems to be popular at Eastern European universities, even though their languages do not derive from Latin roots, as they do in many West European countries. Here’s a version from a Russian university:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sR8dPYDQ6U

    Brahms incorporated parts of this song into his well-known, “Academic Festival Overture”.

    “Gaudeamus” also used to be sung at the Olympics due to the high number of student athletes who participated.
  • etondadetondad Posts: 1,120Registered User Senior Member
    Pusey changed the bachelor's degrees to English (The Law School's--as I look at it is in latin). Funny thing-- Yale's are in Latin but it grants a B.A. Harvard's are in English yet it grants an A.B.
  • etondadetondad Posts: 1,120Registered User Senior Member
    The change occurred when the College became Unitarian, as I have been told. It is technically thus although it's recently deceased and just named Preacher and Chaplain are American Bapitist and are most definitely Trinitarian. The Services are straight from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
  • zapfinozapfino Posts: 2,465Registered User Senior Member
    I did some searching around about the motto. The seal on Harvard's annual President's Reports shows the original motto up through 1933-34; thereafter, it changes to the shortened motto.
    Sequence 389 : Harvard University. Issue containing the report of the President of Harvard College and reports of departments for ... Harvard University Library PDS

    Harvard was taken over by Unitarians about 1805, so the original motto would have been used for more than a century later.
  • etondadetondad Posts: 1,120Registered User Senior Member
    ^ thanks for searching that out :)
  • HannaHanna Posts: 11,098Registered User Senior Member
    Yes, my '99 AB is in English and '02 JD is in Latin.

    Fun fact: my class was the last group of female undergraduates from Radcliffe College, Harvard University, and ours are the last diplomas signed by both Harvard and Radcliffe presidents. I don't know if this would impact the price if I were ever to sell it on eBay.
  • etondadetondad Posts: 1,120Registered User Senior Member
    There is a story that when Pusey proposed the change it caused a bit of a kerfuffle amongst the students. A group went to protest--and Pusey handed them a Latin diploma and asked them to translate it. When they could not (obviously not classics concentrators) Pusey said that his decision would stand.
  • coureurcoureur Posts: 11,386Registered User Senior Member
    I'm perfectly happy with my daughter's diploma being in English. Harvard gets trashed for pretentiousness enough as it is without clinging to that unnecessary anachronism.
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