A University Anthem isn’t an alma mater, and it’s not a fight song. It’s a special song that captures the heart and soul of a university — and its tribe of students, fans and alumni.
Some of them are popular songs. Some are original songs for and about the university. Some are recordings that play; sometimes they’re performed by the marching band or a musical group.
The ones that are popular songs aren’t ‘popular songs’ to their fans. They know the song as ‘their’ song. “Country Roads” isn’t an old John Denver song from the 70’s to West Virginia University fans. It’s their university’s song. It’s for and about them. You sing it together — as a tribe.
UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH
As a football player at Pitt, Justin Acierno realized there was something missing.
Pitt didn’t have a game-day experience or tradition. So after receiving his master’s in 2007 and accepting a job with the athletic department focusing on football and men’s basketball fan experience, he decided to change that.
“I was fortunate enough to get that position and that’s when I really started focusing on how to improve the game-day experience and fan interaction,” Acierno said. “And that’s where ‘Sweet Caroline’ really kind of came from.”
So he reached out to Student Affairs and different campus organizations that were heavily involved in celebrations on football game days. The final group that would eventually pick “Sweet Caroline” was made up of athletic department employees, members of Greek life, Student Government Board, the Panther Pitt and the Oakland Zoo.
Once he had his team, Acierno asked them what songs got people the most excited on weekend nights in bars. They came up with two — “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi and “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond.
“We kind of felt like ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ wasn’t a good message to be sending when you were going into the fourth quarter and trying to win a game, you don’t want to necessarily be living on a prayer,” Acierno said. “So we looked at ‘Sweet Caroline’ … and people old, people young, all can recognize the song, they can all understand it and it was one of those unifying songs we knew everyone would know.”
It was settled — ‘Sweet Caroline’ would play at the end of the third quarter at Pitt football games. The next challenge was making sure fans knew what was going on and would participate.
Acierno’s team put together a YouTube video and passed it around to different student organizations. The video explained what they were doing, how it was going to work and how cool it would be. They also passed flyers around to students before the game so they knew what to do and the lyrics were put on the video board so the crowd could sing along.
The big moment happened against the University of Buffalo. “The whole crowd got into it right away, they knew exactly what was going on.” Following the crowd’s enthusiastic sing-along, the Panthers pushed hard during the fourth quarter and won the game.
Corey Hartman never knew why “Sweet Caroline” started playing at Pitt football games, but he remembers thinking how cool it was, especially with the words “Let’s go Pitt” subbed for the “bomp-bomp-bom” in the chorus.
“I just loved the song and how much of a tradition it was to Pitt football,” Hartman said. “I was thinking, ‘man, if I’m ever lucky enough to have a daughter I want to name her Caroline, just so I can sing that song to her.’ Every time I sing it I’ll think of Pitt football and every time I talk to her I will think of all the great times I had there.”
According to Emily Yarish, a senior information science major and president of the Panther Pitt, the longer the tradition goes on the better it gets because more people know the words and know what to do.
The players also feel and feed off the excitement.
“We definitely love fan support and when they are screaming and roaring and give us a boost of energy,” first-year wide receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis said. “We hear it sometimes and we try to sing along if we are up and we are winning. It gets us hyped up because it feels like the fans are on the field with us, they’re part of the team too.”
Senior offensive lineman Connor Dintino tries not to listen to it so he can stay focused on the field, but when he does hear it, he feels at home.
According to Acerino, no one sitting in Hemingway’s could have thought “Sweet Caroline” would not only still be playing at football games 10 years later, but also at graduation ceremonies. They could not have imagined it would become an anthem for Pitt fans, following them all over the country — or that it would be something Pitt fans name their daughters after.
“ALL I DO IS WIN”
All I Do Is Win is a song from DJ Khaled’s fourth studio album, Victory.
The truth is, this is somewhere between a ‘jump-around’ and a ‘university anthem.’
The song has become an anthem for numerous sports teams, most notably the Auburn Tigers football team, during their 2010 national championship season.
It is now played during the team’s pregame entrance video as well as following each home victory in Jordan–Hare Stadium and become one of the most notable university anthems in the country.
Most university anthems are about their love of their university — and their love of being in the tribe. Not the case, here. This song is about winning. It’s saying it’s the character trait of their tribe — but not in true form to most university anthems.
UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE
Spectacular ‘university anthem.’
Rocky Top is an American country and bluegrass song, written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, in 1967 and first recorded by the Osborne Brothers.
It’s the moment at a Vols game — when the stadium rocks out to singing Rocky Top.
House of Bryant has granted the University of Tennessee a perpetual license to play the song as much and as often as success on the field dictates.
Assistant Band Director and arranger Barry McDonald created a marching band arrangement that was first played against the Alabama Crimson Tide in 1972.
Over the years, this university anthem has become so closely associated with UT that many believe it’s the school’s fight song. Their fight song is Down the Field.
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
“I WON’T BACK DOWN”
When you watch this video, you see at the Florida fans taking videos of themselves singing along with the enormous crowd.
That because the sense this is important. They have no interest recording and keeping a video of a bunch of football fans singing a 30 year-old song. But they are interested in memorializing a moment, a song, that defines their life. Their feelings. Their tribe. Their experiences.
That’s the power of ‘university anthems’ and the extraordinary moments they create.
I Won’t Back Down was a big hit by American rock musician Tom Petty. Petty was born in Gainesville, Florida, and briefly worked on the grounds crew at the University of Florida.
After his sudden death in 2017, the Gators decided to perform a tribute to the musician by playing his hit song, I Won’t Back Down, between the third and fourth quarters. There was such a positive response to the tribute from Gators fans everywhere that the song is now played at every home football game and has quickly become one of the most beloved university anthems of all time.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY
Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” is a university anthem for Pitt — along with a few other schools.
But that doesn’t make it any less important for Penn State fans.
Because, as with all ‘university anthems,’ it’s their song. Not anybody else’s.
When they all lock arms and sing that song in their stadium with 100,000 other fans — they’re singing about their lives. Their team. That’s the beauty of university music. It’s personal.
SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY
SMU Forever is an original song for and about SMU students, fans and alumni.
True to a university anthem, it is a first-person story singing to his/her alma mater of SMU.
It’s remembering walking along the campus boulevard, about smelling the azalias, about the importance of those days and that experience in life.
From the day SMU Forever was introduced to SMU, it hit a nerve. With the alumni and with the students. And it’s performed at graduations, at university events, in videos (and now re-imagined in myriad instrumental pieces in their Songbook Library). It’s been recorded by the revered SMU Symphony Orchestra, the Mustang Marching Band, the SMU Chamber Choir, and in various ballad and pop arrangements.
It’s a great example of how traditions seem like they’ve been around forever — after only a few years. So many SMU alumni now include SMU Forever in their wedding videos… It’s a story of their life.
WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY
“Take Me Home, Country Roads,” also known as “Country Roads,” is a song written by John Denver about West Virginia.
It has been performed during every home football pregame show since 1972, becoming what many Mountaineer fans consider to be the greatest tradition in college football.
It’s a terrific example of a popular song that a university makes their own.
This isn’t an old John Denver song from the 70’s; this is the song that tells the story of everyone’s life in that stadium and every lifelong fan of West Virginia. When they sing this song; they’re telling a story about their lives, and their parent’s lives, and their parent’s lives.
Everything that’s powerful of what a tribe is and the impact of music in people’s lives — is alive and well in “Country Roads.”
“HERE COME THE IRISH”
An alumnus, John Scully, wrote “Here Come the Irish” with a midwest music producer. They brought their song to Notre Dame. The rest is history. Notre Dame teed up their new “University Anthem” in every emotional live and digital setting imaginable.
There are hundreds and hundreds of YouTube videos that have been created to this relatively new, passionate music asset.
It’s an example of how an evolved music program continues to re-invent itself — adding and subtracting traditions and touchpoints.
The writing of the song is as good as it gets, so strong on both the lyrical and melodic fronts.
Imagine the value of this song to igniting fundraising, recruitment — and elevating the bar of the university’s culture.
UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY
“MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME”
Picking the best University Song in the country is like deciding who was the best basketball player ever on the Chicago Bulls.
There’s not a human over the age of 6 in the state of Kentucky that can’t sing the words to “My Old Kentucky Home,” and most are crying when they do it.
For students and alumni at the University of Kentucky, no one really knows their alma mater. This is their song. This is their story.
It is melodically and lyrically stunning — and so full of emotion.