Cornell University's 'Any person ... any study' named nation's best college motto by magazine


Among all American colleges and universities, Cornell University's motto is the best, according to Motto magazine, which recently released its first annual "Top 10 Motto List."

Cornell's motto, "I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study," impressed Motto magazine's editors with its inspiring qualities and its promise of inclusive education.

"The beauty of this motto is its inherent accuracy," said Thomas W. Bruce, vice president for university communications. "Cornell University students come from all walks of life, all income levels, races, religions and lifestyles. They come from all corners of the globe to study archaeology, biology, botany, government, music, physics -- subjects too numerous to mention here."

The motto first appeared in a letter Ezra Cornell, the university's founder, wrote to Andrew Dickson White, the university's first president, on Feb. 23, 1868, in which he said that his consultants on the design for an official university seal "after much discussion … both decided that my name should follow the legend thus, 'I would found an Institution where any person could find instruction in any study.' -- Ezra Cornell." He used the motto in his first inaugural address on Oct. 7, 1868.

The motto's appeal is timeless because most people recognize the value of education, and many people, even today, might still feel they are not in a position to be able to afford an education, said Claudia Wheatley, senior writer and marketing consultant with Cornell's Office of Publications and Marketing. "Ezra Cornell's promise of founding an institution where any person could find any instruction in any study gave people hope.

"That, and the idea of being able to attend an institution where you can follow your interests wherever they lead you, across disciplines, has a great amount of intellectual appeal," she said. "Put them together, and you can see why it's a statement that people can relate to."

Cornell's motto also may explain why the university has one of the most devoted alumni bases in the country, Wheatley said. "I think it's because Ezra's promise sounds true to them -- they still feel it."

Similarly, Cornell's motto appeals to prospective students as well -- recent focus groups conducted by Cornell revealed that the motto appeals to teenagers, as does Ezra Cornell's life story. "They liked it. When we use it, it resonates," Wheatley said.

Other universities whose mottos made the top 10 list included Brown University, Wellesley College, Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, Seton Hall University, Dartmouth College, Carnegie-Mellon University, Clark Atlanta University and Brigham Young University.

Motto magazine is a business magazine that "helps individuals and businesses infuse heart and soul into their work ..." For more information about Motto magazine, visit


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