Omnibus: A Latin Motto for Sturgis (Summer 2012)

By Robert Albis, Lead Latin Teacher, Sturgis East

Robert Albis with Omnibus

The other morning, I got to thinking about Sturgis Charter School’s motto, “IB for All.” A fine motto, but I could not help feeling a pang of disappointment that the school’s motto is not in Latin even though all Sturgis students study the language and Captain William Sturgis himself enjoyed a reputation for being a fine Latinist.  The fact that I am a Latin teacher may also contribute to my disappointment.
My previous two schools both sport Latin mottoes. Indeed Boston College High School, where I taught before coming to Sturgis, has more than one Latin saying associated with its name. The most common is “Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam,” “For the Greater Glory of God.” This suits the Jesuit school well and is wholly embraced by the institution: one can see AMDG everywhere, from a stained-glass window in the chapel, to various school publications, to the heading that many teachers put on all their quizzes and tests.  Some students even add these letters to the tops of assessments that do not include them.
The school I taught at before BC High was less enthusiastic about its Latin motto. The saying was tolerated but largely ignored, like an embarrassing relative at a family gathering. The motto is a quote from Virgil’s Aeneid, which sounds promising enough, unless you know Latin and you know the Aeneid. The quote is “Moniti Meliora Sequamur,” which most would translate as “Having Been Warned, Let Us Pursue Better Things.” Now, I could make a cogent argument that “Moniti” does not really mean “Having Been Warned,” but rather, “Having Been Inspired,” which sounds much better, yet the context of this quote can not be explained away.  The elder leader Anchises speaks these words to the Trojans, who have been wandering in search of a new home after the horrific and total destruction of their city by the Greeks. To add to their suffering, they have just seen their second attempt at a new settlement, on the island of Crete, ravaged by a devastating plague. Now, the gods have revealed that Crete is not destined to be their new home; they must move on.  Hence the motto of this school essentially means, “Now that we know better, let’s go somewhere else.”  I once did some research to see if any other institutions used this quote as their motto, and I found only one: a prison on the island of Mauritius.
So by comparison, “IB for All,” even though it is in English, is an excellent motto. But that morning I pondered how it would be translated into Latin.  I wasn’t quite sure what to do with “IB,” so I started with “For All.” Easy enough: “Omnibus.”  And then it struck me that IB is already contained within the word, “omnIBus.” I often tell my students that Latin can say the same thing as English in many fewer words, but this piece of wordplay seemed to me to be especially pithy. I couldn’t wait to show this to my first period class of Sophomores.  I was delighted when, as soon as I wrote the word on the board with the letters IB in a different color, the students immediately understood that this was a one-word rendition of Sturgis’ motto.   I doubt we will ever see omnIBus enshrined in a stained glass window at Sturgis, but it might be neat if some students started doodling it on their quizzes.

Graphic Design by Peter Richenburg

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