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Northwestern is steeped in traditions that make it home to our students


Alma Mater/Hymn

Students in choir singing

Hail to Alma Mater! We will sing thy praise forever; All thy sons and daughters Pledge thee victory and honor. Alma Mater, praise be thine, May thy name forever shine! Hail to Purple! Hail to White! Hail to thee, Northwestern!”

The traditional hymn ("Quacumque sunt vera") was written in 1907 by Peter Christian Lutkin (1858-1931), the first dean of the School of Music from 1883 to 1931.

Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, Northwestern students sang the original version of the University Hymn in the language of ancient Rome. In 1953, the then Director-of-Bands, John Paynter recruited an undergraduate music student, Thomas Tyra ('54) to write the English version of the song to replace the Latin verse. Today, the "Alma Mater" hymn is performed by the Marching Band during halftime at Wildcat football games, and by the orchestra during formal and special occasions such as commencement or convocation ceremonies.

The literal translation of the Latin lyrics was based on the University’s motto,  "Whatsoever things are true." See University Motto section below for more information.

Dillo Day

Armadillo Day began in 1972 when Northwestern University Texans held a small celebration in honor of the official mammal of their home state. More than 40 years later, Dillo Day is the largest student-run music festival in the nation.

Hosted on Northwestern's Lakefront on the shore of Lake Michigan. Nationally and locally known artists play two stages, and the Dillo Village hosts all-day food and activities for the 12,000 festival attendees. Mayfest Productions, a student organization, plans and produces Dillo Day every year for the Northwestern community.

Students Dancing at Dillo Day

Fight Song

students singing fight song at purple pride

Go! U Northwestern! Break right through that line. With our colors flying, We will cheer you all the time. U! Rah! Rah! Go! U Northwestern! Fight for victory. Spread far the fame of our fair name. Go Northwestern, win that game! (Whistle) (Yell) Go! Northwestern Go! (Whistle) (Yell) Go! Northwestern Go! Hit 'em hard! Hit 'em low! Go, Northwestern Go! (Repeat chorus.) Wildcat Growl”

Originally written by Northwestern University marching band member Theodore Van Etten. The fight song premiered in the final football game of the 1912 season, and it is still a major part of every Northwestern sport event.

Game Day

Wildcat Growl & Claw

The tradition where every Northwestern fan holds his/her arm up angled upwards with a hand in a Wildcat claw. This is followed by creating as much noise as possible in order to distract the opponent. The tradition occurs when Northwestern is on defense, and the growl is the loudest during every third down.

Hands in the Air

Before the start of the fourth quarter, join a guest conductor in turning the volume up at Ryan Field by putting your hands in the air! To see previous "Hands In The Air" videos, click here.

Wildcat Dash

Before the kick-off to the Big10 home opener, Northwestern’s first year students are given the chance to lead the team out onto the field as a class. 

freshman dashing across the field before the home game

March Through The Arch

students marching through the arch at Northwestern

March Through the Arch (Wildcat Welcome)

In an annual tradition, each incoming freshman class is led by the marching band  through the Weber Arch in a "March Through the Arch" to kick off the school year. Current students, faculty, and friends line campus pathways to cheer on and welcome the newest members of the Northwestern community. For more information about March through the Arch and other Northwestern orientation events you can visit our New Student & Family Programs' Wildcat Welcome page.

March (Back) Through the Arch (Senior Year)

Every June we welcome our graduating student back to where their journey began, the Arch. Northwestern University's Senior Week kicks off with the "March (Back) Through the Arch" and is followed by a series of social events before before Commencement Weekend. Graduating seniors gather in front of Deering Library one last time with the rest of their class and retrace their steps back through the Webber Arch, bringing their Northwestern experience full circle. More information about Senior Week and Commencement Events can be found on the Commencement Website.

Paint The Rock

The Rock was originally a fountain donated by the Class of 1902. The seniors liked the idea of having a water feature on the south end of campus and they deemed the fountain the perfect solution.

Students began painting the iconic Rock in the 1940's, first as a prank, then as an accepted avenue of expression. Years later, students developed the tradition of guarding the Rock for 24 hours before painting it in the middle of the night. Almost every night, a different group paints a message or symbols promoting a particular cause or event.

The Rock has become a frequently used location for student activism, performance and philanthropy throughout the year.

the rock welcoming new students

University Motto

University Motto Carved in Alice Millar Chapel

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."”

"Quaecumque Sunt Vera” This Latin phrase was adopted as the University's official motto in 1890. Translated as "Whatsoever things are true," it comes from the New Testament book of Philippians (4:8), in which St. Paul admonishes the Christians in the Greek city of Philippi.

Willie The Wildcat

In the early days of Northwestern’s history, the team's first mascot was not Willie the Wildcat, but a live, caged bear cub from the Lincoln Park Zoo named Furpaw. In fall 1923, Furpaw was driven to the playing field to greet fans before each game. However, after a losing season, the team decided Furpaw was the harbinger of bad luck and decided they needed a new mascot.

The following year, a reporter from Chicago Tribune who was covering Northwestern's game against the University of Chicago Maroons described the football players as "Wildcats [that] had come down from Evanston." Thus Willie the Wildcat was "born" in the 1930s and continues to be one of the most recognizable symbols of the school today.

Willie is a common facet at many University occasions including Wildcat Welcome, Deering Days, Alumni functions, and various events at Norris. Students crowd around the beloved mascot to get their photo taken with Willie to celebrate their school spirit.

Willie during Move In in the Res Hall