illustration of man in uo green holding sheet music and a beer

There is no Ducking the Fight Song

When duty called, he was ready to answer. If only he knew the words.

By Raphe Beck Illustration by Bridgette Coyne January 5, 2022

5 min read 

When I tell people that I run the University of Oregon Alumni Association, they sometimes ask, “Is that a real job?”

I get it. I absolutely love my job, and I’m honored to serve both the UO and its graduates. But I acknowledge that when I meet alumni I’m often standing at a reception or a tailgate with a drink in my hand. Are there real jobs where you can perform one of your core duties while holding a beer? Indeed there are.

There’s even a professional organization for alumni association directors. We hold conferences where colleagues from different schools can hold beers together. There are breakout sessions for this.

It was in preparation for my first such conference in 2019, when I was new in leading the UOAA, that I experienced a very stressful challenge. A colleague from another school called to make sure I was planning to attend the conference. And then, in an offhanded way, he dropped a bomb on me.

“At dinner, the new people stand up one-by-one to introduce themselves,” he said. “And then you have to sing your school’s fight song.”

Wait, what? I started to get a little queasy.

I mean, do YOU know the fight song? Not just clapping along, but the actual words?

The UOAA gives students T-shirts with the “Mighty Oregon” lyrics printed on the back, so hypothetically they can read the person’s shirt in front of them at a game.

But at the conference, there wouldn’t be a person in front of me, and even if there were, I guess it would be some other school’s lyrics on their shirt. No, I had to have “Mighty Oregon” down cold, and I quickly learned that there are three challenges to doing so:

1. The Rhyme

Like many Americans raised east of the Mississippi, I was taught to say “Oregon” with a generous helping of “GON” at the end, roughly like the conclusion of the word “polygon.” When I arrived on the West Coast, I was reeducated to say “Oregn” with as little closing vowel as possible. Only a troglodyte says “Ore-GON.”But in our fight song we guard our alma mater on and on, and then, uh oh, how do I rhyme “on and on” with “Oregon” without sounding like a total polygon?

2. The Order

Each line of the song is self-contained and could basically come in any sequence. You get no clues as to which thought comes next. Is it time to cheer or to gather ’round? Are we singing the story or chanting her glory? Who can say? We’re lost in a linguistic wilderness.

3. The Language

“Mighty Oregon” was written in 1916, and it shows. What does it mean for us to “roar the praises of her warriors”? Did people back then say things like “That Teddy Roosevelt, I’d sure like to roar his praises!”?

Nonetheless, I was determined to get this right, and I spent every waking minute practicing for three weeks. In the car, in the shower, you name it. I had terrible anxiety dreams: I was back in high school taking a math exam I didn’t study for, while a football player is running straight at me. Over the loudspeaker I hear, “Kenny Wheaton is gonna score! And then Raphe Beck is gonna sing the fight song!” Good grief.

I arrived at my conference bleary-eyed and clammy. Before dinner the president of our organization reminded me that I would introduce myself at dinner. “I know,” I said sheepishly, “and then I sing the fight song.”

“No,” he said, “we stopped doing that last year.”

I almost dropped my beer.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Everyone hated it.”

And just like that, I was spared. Three weeks of stress wasted on a discontinued ritual.

But maybe you’ll be at a basketball game this season, and when “Mighty Oregon” plays, you’ll hear a lone voice singing. It’s me.

And if perhaps you’re singing along, too, please know that I am absolutely roaring your praises. After all, it’s my job.

Raphe Beck is executive director of the University of Oregon Alumni Association.