The thought of writing lyrics to a song that will be sung by thousands for generations to come is a daunting one for many students. However, Belinda Gunn ’12 sat down in late March to do just that.
Gunn, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s in physical education and now coaches sports and co-manages Lyon’s Salon & Spa, was selected as the winner of the FIU Alma Mater Lyrics contest. Her 12 lines of lyric took inspiration from the previous Alma Mater’s words and Gunn’s own nostalgic feelings prior to graduation.
“I was perusing the FIU News website and investigating the events around campus when I saw the article announcing the contest,” Gunn said. “The semester was winding down and I was feeling sentimental, and I figured that I’m a pretty good writer. I can do this.”
Although Gunn was a member of Quill & Scroll, a journalism honor society, in high school and an unpublished poet, she had never written lyrics prior to the Alma Mater contest and didn’t think her lyrics would be selected.
“When I first received an email from the Alma Mater committee, I thought it was just thanking me for participating in the contest until I got to the phrase ‘We are pleased to inform you’,” she said. “Then I had to have a friend who was nearby read it aloud to me, because I couldn’t believe it, my shock and disbelief was just too great.”
Provost and Executive Vice President Douglas Wartzok said that Gunn’s lyrics were chosen by the Alma Mater committee because they expressed FIU’s youthfulness and spirit of fraternity.
The committee – made up of students, alumni, faculty and staff, and headed by voice Professor Kathleen Wilson – voted unanimously for Gunn’s version because it reflected the university’s past and present. The entries were submitted anonymously. “We were delighted the winner was a student but we didn’t know that when we made our decision,” Wilson said. “The lyrics represented the spirit of FIU the best.”
Gunn attributes the success of her lyrics to her passion for FIU – her two years as a FIU Golden Panther cheerleader, and her experiences as a student here.
“Being a university cheerleader, a spirit ambassador on behalf of the university, meant that I was screaming blue and gold for two years and it was really easy to incorporate that enthusiasm into the songwriting,” she said. “FIU is just so meaningful to me. It’s a huge part of my identity and made me the ambitious person I am today.”
“The new lyrics really capture the atmosphere of FIU and the school spirit here,” Sandy Seide, a senior elementary education major, said. “The colors of blue and gold and the variety of culture is really what makes FIU what it is, and I’m really glad the new lyrics mention that.”
After being selected as the Alma Mater contest winner, Gunn worked with the Alma Mater committee chair and voice Professor Kathleen Wilson to make slight modifications. She also listened to sample melody compositions written by a professional ASCAP award winning composer. Gunn was thrilled when Wilson sang the words for her in a phone conversation.
Performed by the FIU Marching Band and the School of Music, the new Alma Mater will make its debut Aug. 19 at Freshman Convocation.
“I’m just really nervous and really excited about everything. It was a huge honor to be able to participate in this contest, and a huge honor to actually win,” she said. “The alma mater is the thing that ties us together as a university in victory, defeat, sports and academics, and it’s just an honor that I was able to leave a ‘Panther Pawprint’ on the university by writing the lyrics to such an anthem to FIU.”
Gunn takes home bragging rights and a $1,000 prize.
FIU Alma Mater
We pledge to thee dear FIU,
with voices loud and true.
Alma Mater falter never,
shine forever Gold and Blue.
We fly our banners high,
ev’ry culture we embrace.
All our love and Panther spirit,
young and old we make this place.
We hail together FIU,
ev’ry scholar side-by-side.
We hail to Alma Mater,
Alma Mater be our guide!
Kathleen Wilson – professor of voice and Alma Mater committee chair
Barry Bernhardt – instructor and associate director of bands
Thomas Breslin – interim dean of university libraries; member of the Board of Trustees; and professor of politics and international relations
Bill Draughon – associate vice president for University Advancement
Jeffrey Fermin – SGA Panther Rage coordinator
Carmela McIntire – associate professor of English
Patrick O’Keefe – SGA president
Christina Olivos – senior, English and political science
Jessica Plantada Diaz – alumna, assistant director of Business Services/Contract Manager
Gitta Montoto – Commencement committee chair
— Emily Cochrane, intern