“Great is the truth”: A look inside school traditions


Maeve Goldman , Staff Writer

“We’re a school steeped in tradition, while never losing sight of the school’s need to maintain its relevance in the lives students will live after graduation,” Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly wrote in an email interview. “Our Core Values, Mission Statement, shield and even mascot are reminders that we are a family enterprise, one that celebrates the richness and importance of the relationships developed and nurtured here, alongside the lessons taught.” 

The school’s core values, alma mater, crest, motto, mascot, color, and mission statement represent what the school has been and what it aims to become. As students walk under the silver letters of the Latin motto in Olshan Lobby or sing the lyrics of the alma mater at an assembly, understanding the origins and meanings behind the school’s customs and traditions enhances their experiences as members of the community.

Core values

Inscribed on a plaque in every classroom on campus, the core values are a constant reminder of the school’s hopes for its students in and out of the classroom. 2022 marks the values’ 20th year as an integral part of the school’s philosophy.

According to a Record article from Volume 105 Issue 14, the school’s core values emerged in 2001 after former Head of School Eileen Mullady proposed creating specific themes for each academic year. According to the article, she did so with the intention of clarifying common beliefs held by the school and countering myths such as the school’s “pressure cooker” environment.”

The values were a new addition to the school after it faced a difficult period in the late 20th century, Upper Division (UD) history teacher Barry Bienstock, who has worked at the school for 41 years, said. “I don’t know that the school had anything quite like it when I started in the 1980s, through the 90s, or into the very early years of the 21 century,” he said. “They were a way of moving the school in the right direction and emphasizing that we were in a better place than where we came from.”

Former Head of the UD Dr. Larry Weiss drafted the core values, Kelly wrote. Weiss drew upon conversations with students from all divisions regarding their experience as students at the school, Kelly wrote. “In an effort to capture the focus of one’s journey through HM, Dr. Weiss was charged with stepping away from the group in an attempt to summarize the information shared earlier in the day,” he wrote. “Dr. Weiss’ draft, with some refinement, lives today as our Core Values.”

In 2002, after careful consideration by faculty and administrative members, the school officially published the Core Values in the family handbook to offer “a framework for analysis and critique of the issues and problems that inevitably arise,” Weiss said in the article.  

For Bethany Jarrett (11), the specific values matter less than the general concept of community norms, she said. “I rarely think about the Core Values in my daily life, but I think they help underscore an expectation of morality in the community,” she said. “Even if I might not remember the exact words, the behavioral and ethical lessons I learned will leave the school with me.”  

The values are transferable to stages of life after school ends, Ellie Campbell (11) said.  “My favorite values are caring community and individual achievement because they are not only school values, but life values,” Campbell said. 

Although some students appreciate the core values, others think they are perfunctory, Sofia Filardo (11) said. “I don’t know any by heart because they are sort of generic and not unique,” she said. “My middle school had similar values, so I don’t remember them off the top of my head, and very few at Horace Mann do.”

In the end, the core values establish the culture that the school aims to foster, UD math teacher Chris Jones said. “The most cynical take on Horace Mann, that I disagree with, is that we are a factory that churns out kids who go to good schools.  Our mission, what we are aiming for, is to teach students the tools they can use to lead what we call ‘great and giving lives,’” he said.

Alma mater 

“I felt like I was at church the first time I heard it,” Jarrett said. “I was so amazed by how everyone in the community knew the Alma Mater and how it was a beautiful tune that brought everyone together.”

After winning the Music Department’s contest in 1952 as a junior, Dr. Robert Ackerman’s ’53 “Alma Mater” became the official school song, according to an article from Volume 45 Issue 28 of The Record. 

Ackerman’s “Alma Mater” replaced former English teacher Kenneth Rogers’s 1920 “Horace Mann Hymn,” according to an article from Volume 45 Issue 28 of The Record. As a part time student of the Juilliard Saturday School Program, he hummed the opening notes while riding the subway and finished the song in only two months, the article said. 

The song’s musical composition was targeted at the all-male school, Music Department Head Timothy Ho said. “It was originally written to be sung in four parts — tenor 1, tenor 2, baritone, and bass.” 

The song was amended by a school committee in 1995 to address gender imbalances and inconsistencies in the song’s original lyrics, a Record article from Volume 103 Issue 29 said. However, the musical key of the song stayed the same. “We kept the alma mater in the original key, so now it is difficult for a lot of people to sing,” Ho said.

The challenging nature of the song’s key has become a metaphor for life at the school, Ho said. “It’s difficult to sing but everyone does it. Symbolically, there is a whole challenge and overcoming aspect to it that the community as a whole can relate to.”

The alma mater has become an assembly staple, Ho said. “It links everybody to all the Horace Mann people who came before us,” he said. “There is something powerful and beautiful about having even that little minute and forty seconds of singing to remember where we came from.”

The tune has transcended formal school gatherings and is used by students to generate a sense of camaraderie, Christine Tao (11) said. “The soccer team during our pregame warmup sang the “Alma Mater” together in an attempt to galvanize our fighting spirit,” they said. “We lost the game 3-1, but we still did it as a community.“

Some students think the school has outgrown the decades old song, Gisella Fishberg (11) said. “Unlike the rest of the school population, I am not too familiar with the alma mater. If you ask me to sing the alma mater or die, I’m dying,” she said. “I find the song archaic, and since it hasn’t been updated in decades, it is no longer representative of the current culture of Horace Mann.” 

To Ho, the “Alma Mater” is emblematic of the school’s main mission, he said. “What stands out to me is the second half when it goes low — ‘great is the truth and it prevails, mighty the youth tomorrow hails,’” he said. “It is this Horace Mann idea of carrying out this tradition of knowledge and wisdom and truth for the next generation.”


Hurried students crossing Olshan lobby often walk over an oversized silver emblem of the school’s official crest. “It’s a very regal and recognizable symbol for the school,” Sofia Filardo (11) said. “It’s nice to have a visual marker that we are one community.” 

The first school shield, consisting of a white chevron stripe for Columbia, a lion from the Mann family coat of arms, and a maroon background, was created in 1958 by former Director of Development Mr. Bonter, according to a Record article from Volume 52 Issue 5. 

Since then, the seal has evolved. The current crest features the Horace Mann shield at the center, surrounded by plants on its right and left, the school’s Latin motto, and the date the school was founded — 1887. According to Volume 113 Issue 3 of The Record, the round seal was created by Adam Kenner in 2009 alongside the debut of the school’s new website. The roundness was intended to make the seal appear more “fancy,” the article said. 

The ivy on either side of the seal historically symbolizes fidelity, friendship, affection, eternal life, endurance and dependence, prestige, and the passage of time, Kelly wrote in an email. “All ring true in terms of what HM represents and what it desires for its students and alumni when considering a life lived well.”

For students, the school crest reflects the essence of the Horace Mann community, Celia Stafford (11) said, “The lion in the center is in alignment with school values because lions are pack animals and we are fostering a community,” she said. “It is this idea that we are all looking out for each other.” 

Other students don’t think the crest is necessary, Fishberg said. “We don’t need a crest — it’s so collegiate that it becomes a little pretentious,” Fishberg said. “It doesn’t add anything to the HM image; we are a highschool and we should present ourselves as one.”

However, Fishberg appreciates that the crest can be incorporated into school memorabilia, she said. “The only thing I like with the crest is that it’s used on merch,” Fishberg said. “There is this sense of belonging to wear clothing that symbolizes that you are a HM student.”

Latin Motto

Found everywhere from our school crest to the alma mater to the walls of Olshan Lobby, the school motto, “Magna est veritas et praevalet” translates to “great is the truth and it prevails.”

Today, the motto represents the core values of the school, Latin teacher James McCaw said. “‘Magna est veritas’ or ‘great is the truth’ is pretty self-explanatory,” he said. “Praevalet” has a couple of different meanings: “valet” means to be strong; “prae” means in front or before,”  Mccaw said. “It is this power of knowledge and the idea that learning is truth,” he said. “Essentially, what we as teachers are trying to instill in our students.”

The motto was selected in 1952 by a group of alumni and faculty members to replace the school’s original motto. The motto, “The patience to be thorough, the concentration to understand, and the persistence to grasp and apply,” was too long to fit on the school’s crest, according to an article from Volume 45 Issue 16 of The Record. 

“I remember feeling really excited in middle school when I learned enough of the vocabulary to be able to translate the motto,” Hanzhang Swen (11) said. “I didn’t know what it meant until my Latin teacher pointed out that the words we were learning were also used in the motto.”

“To me, the motto talks about academic honesty and having the integrity to do the right thing when nobody’s watching,” Joann Yu (11) said.  “Everyone should take Latin so that they can translate the motto and understand its deeper meaning.”


“When I see something maroon I immediately associate it with Horace Mann,” Gwendolyn Simon (11) said. “It’s nice to have a reminder of the school that when I leave HM, I will not forget.”

Although maroon has become an integral facet of the school’s identity, the color is not, in fact, maroon, Kelly wrote. “Our school colors are actually a deep red and white.” In fact, one of the original school songs, from when the school was still a teachers’ college, references “the red and white of Horace Mann,” he wrote.

The color maroon gradually became more prominent on campus, becoming the official namesake of organizations from the Maroon and White sports teams to the Maroon Monsoon cheerleading squad in 1923, a Record Article from Issue 11 Volume 16 said. Now, maroon is everywhere: gym uniforms, branded mugs, wall decals, and more.

Despite falling out of fashion on campus, the traditional red and white school colors appear annually at graduation, Kelly wrote. “If you look at our original graduation banner, it still reflects more of a red background, nowhere near close to maroon. When this banner does appear at commencement time, we do get asked a lot of questions.”

Overall, the color maroon symbolizes school pride, Saanvi Sherchan (11) said. “Red historically represents power, confidence, and strength,” she said. “As our school’s color, it ties those characteristics to the identity of Horace Mann as a whole.”


“If you’ve ever been at a Buzzell game or a pep rally, what do you do when the lion comes out?” Coach Ray Barile said. “Cheer.” 

Introduced in 1958, the school mascot’s origins trace back to the Mann family coat of arms, according to an article from Volume 52 Issue 04 of The Record.

The lion costume was introduced in 1992 when the Pep Rally Club wanted a mascot, Barile said. “There was this old rusty lion costume in a storage closet that was used in multiple Buzzell games,” he said. “We wanted to replicate what was here before, so we bought a lion — which is a copy of the lion found in the storage closet — and a lioness to account for the school turning co-ed.”

The lion mascot has since evolved, Barile said. “We have eight total lions in the highschool,” he said. “We also bought little versions of Lion mascots for the Lower Division and Middle Division.”

“It feels very worn,” Nico Davidson (12), who wore the mascot costume during preseason, said. “When I was younger, I always used to see the lion at Homecoming and it was always this great symbol of Horace Mann pride,” he said. “There’s a fan in the costume and it’s a little hot in there, but I’m honored to be part of the costume’s tradition.” 

The lion mascot is used for everything from Homecoming and Buzzell to photo shoots for The Record and as fun costumes at Upper Division Orientation. 

Since the 1950s, the lion has developed into a signifier of school community and spirit, Davidson said. “At a school where sports aren’t that big, having someone dress up and walk around definitely adds extra enthusiasm during games and extra people showing up,” he said. “It helps bring attention and show what we are all about.”

Mission statement

“Horace Mann School prepares a diverse community of students to lead great and giving lives. We strive to maintain a safe, secure, and caring environment in which mutual respect, mature behavior, and the life of the mind can thrive. We recognize and celebrate individual achievement and contributions to the common good.”

The mission statement was last updated in the fall of 2008, Kelly wrote. “The then Curriculum Council was charged with reviewing and reaffirming the Mission Statement as part of an upcoming accreditation,” Kelly wrote. “At that time, the Mission Statement was revised to include not only the core values but the school’s first official reference to the priority it places on a diverse community of students.” 

The mission statement is crucial in highlighting how we can bring community norms into the classroom, Sophie Li (11) said. “You can’t fixate on individual achievement and forget about the collaborative part of learning: discussing ideas, listening to different sides of argument,” she said. “Welcoming multiple perspectives helps everyone enhance their knowledge.” 

For students, the Mission Statement reminds us of how we are all a part of a larger community, Jasi Eyre (11) said. “To me, it means everyone has a form of contribution regardless of what it actually is,” he said. “There is no wrong or right way to contribute as long as your contribution is meaningful for the greater good.”

The mission statement serves as a bar which students continuously aim to meet, Tamiah Williams (11) said. “Horace Mann does prepare us to lead great lives,” she said. “However, where I think we need more improvement is that we don’t foster a community of mutual respect — for example, I witnessed one kid verbally harass another kid.”

Overall, the statement reflects the type of community the school hopes to create, Jonathan Coleman (11) said. “I think it is very accurate and befitting of our community.”