MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – When the Class of 2017 sings the familiar “Gamaliel Painter’s Cane” song at commencement, it will mark one hundred years since the song was first introduced to the Middlebury community. The song–a staple of convocation and commencement gatherings at Middlebury–has the distinctive feel of an early twentieth-century collegiate song.

Student David Dennis ’18 recently happened upon the song’s anniversary while he was browsing through old issues of the College’s yearbook, Kaledioscope, and other materials in the College’s Special Collections and Archives.

He found the original sheet music for “Gamaliel Painter’s Cane,” which notes that the song was first sung at the Commencement luncheon on June 20, 1917. Dennis was also interested to discover two additional verses to the song that are not sung at present-day Commencements, one of which refers to University of Vermont students as “our brothers on the lake.” At that time, UVM was one of Middlebury’s biggest rivals in athletics.

Professor of History Jim Ralph ’82 says those songs and traditions were emerging at many colleges and universities around that time.

“During the early part of the 20th century, American higher education was undergoing many changes and one of those changes was the development of a collegiate culture,” said Professor of History Jim Ralph. That meant having symbols and traditions that tied students and alumni to their college or university.

At Middlebury, that took the form of a focus on Gamaliel Painter’s cane, said Ralph. A student, E. Pruda Wiley ’12 and Professor Charles Baker Wright wrote the Painter’s Cane song, which, together with the rediscovery of the actual cane, helped make the cane an enduring symbol of Middlebury.

Listen to the ‘Cane Song’ over the years

1946 – Middlebury College Choir:
1947 – President John Thomas Sings:
1984 – The Dissipated 8:
2014 – Punk rock version by The Mood Organs

“Gamaliel Painter’s Cane” -1917

Verse 4:
So let every son of Midd strive to do as Painter did,
Let him cultivate his muscle and his brain,
When there’s studying to do or a center to go through,
Let him summon up the courage of the cane.