“Achieve The Honorable” on Buildings

The school emblem with the motto “Achieve the Honorable” in Greek is widely displayed on our historic campus, but why is it on some buildings, and not on others?

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Original school motto in Ancient Greek

Daniel Webster Abercrombie, the school’s principal from 1882 until 1918, established the motto.  A Greek teacher, he coined the phrase in 1890 to motivate the students to “Achieve the Honorable,” and in the early years of its existence, the phrase was always in ancient Greek.  As Abercrombie greatly expanded the campus over the next three decades, the motto became a featured motif throughout its buildings.  In 1892, the school seal was inscribed on front entrances Adams and Dexter halls as well as on the mantels of fireplaces in the public spaces.  In Adams Hall each window has small glass triangles containing the emblem.  It was so pervasive that each boy’s room in Dexter Hall also had the seal inscribed in the decorative brick of the mantel.

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Sample of the decorative bricks that were in the mantels of the Dexter Hall fireplaces

The Megaron, built in 1905, displays the motto on the oaken plaques, and the original light fixtures were triangular to mimic the shape of the school seal.

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Megaron interior with triangular light fixtures which mimicked the school seal.

However, not all of the buildings displayed the seal.  For instance, the Kingsley Laboratories does not have the motto at all.  Built in 1897, its curriculum was strictly sciences, not the Classics.  In fact, the head of the science department, William Snyder, ran the department as if it were a separate school to train boys to go on to technical colleges such as WPI or MIT.  Snyder later became the first principal of Hollywood High School in Los Angeles.  Not surprisingly, the Hollywood High motto became “Achieve The Honorable”, but in English.

With Walker Hall, the story of the seal can be confusing.  The motto first appeared not on a building but in the February, 1890 edition of the Academy Weekly, predecessor of the Vigornia.  Abercrombie coined the phrase just in time for the dedication of the building, but by then it was too late to inscribe the seal on the exterior sandstone trim.  Back in the Nineteenth Century, the Providence Street door was the main entrance to the campus.  That entry was designed to give a good impression to the public, but over time that door was not used as much.  Gradually, what was called “the school door” facing the quad, became the main entry.  For many years, that door did not have such ornamentation, as it was designed and used mainly for the boys to enter the building from campus.  As it had become the main public entry, some architectural detailing was needed to demonstrate its significance.  In the mid-Twentieth Century, the school hired Dick Brothers, a local wood working firm, to create the wooden seal above the quad-facing door of Walker.  Thus, while it displays the original school seal, it was a much later addition to the building emphasizing the continued relevance of this motto to the school.

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Triangular shape to original school motto

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Quad facing entrance prior to the installation of the school seal about the entrance