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Helmut Schmidt, Published January 27 2011

North High students seizing the day by calling for Latin motto for North Dakota

Fargo North High School Latin students have been inspired by the ancient language. Now, they want to inspire North Dakota.

Members of the Junior Classical League testify today in Bismarck for House Bill 1346, which calls for an official Latin motto for the state.

In this case, “Seri tut alteri saeclo prosit,” or “One sows for the benefit of another age.”

“These guys decided to carpe diem. They’re going to seize the day,” said North Latin teacher David Volk.

Erin Stangeland researched mottos for the group, which settled on the variation of a quote Roman author Marcus Tullius Cicero used in an essay: “He plants trees to benefit another generation.”

“We wanted to do something agriculturally focused, and people focused. We wanted it to represent who we are,” Stangeland said. “The old one is great, but it’s really old. North Dakota is changing.”

“It’s not about the next four years, it’s about the next 40 years,” Kaia Nygord said.

The official state motto is in English. “Liberty and Union, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable,” was adopted in 1889.

Twenty-three other states and territories have Latin mottos.

Some are a call to a higher purpose:

Civilitas successit barbarum (Civilization succeeds barbarism), Minnesota.

Some are inspirational:

Excelsior! (Higher!) New York

Others look like early tourism bureau efforts: Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam, circumspice (If you are seeking a pleasant peninsula, look around) Michigan.

Or work better at a cocktail party: “Joannes set noman eius” (John is his name) Puerto Rico

Kathy Strand, who teaches Latin at North and Ben Franklin Middle School, said the students wanted to go beyond the pedestrian.

For example, “Fer auxilium! In monte nivis haereo!” (Help! I am stuck in a snowbank!), is practical, but not inspiring.

“I think they were trying to reach a little deeper with the ideals of North Dakota and the things that represent North Dakota best,” she said.

Rep. Joe Heilman, R-Fargo, drafted the bill. He said it’s a fitting motto, tying into agriculture and saving oil revenues for the future.

“I think it speaks well to many things in terms of our resources and our ongoing commitment to the future of our state,” Heilman said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583