Graduation Season, and Graduation Songs, from “Free Bird” to “Onward Christian Soldiers”

Here is a test on graduation songs. I have actually been to many graduations, and each of them has special songs performed. Most of them I have long-since forgotten. But four of them I remember. Here are some of the places I have been to graduations. See if you can match the song with the locale.


“Onward Christian Soldiers”

“Pomp and Circumstance”

“Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

“Alleluia Chorus” by Handel

“Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music


–California State University, Chico, where I have taught for 20 years

–Zeppelin University in Germany, where I was an exchange professor

–Bear River High School in Grass Valley, California, where my kids went to high school

–Payap University International College in Thailand

–Karen Kawthoolei Baptist Bible College in a Karen refugee camp in Thailand.

O.k., now here are the answers.

“Pomp and Circumstance” is at Bear River High School, Chico State, and Payap University. It may have been at the other ceremonies too—I don’t remember. It is such a traditional song, that it doesn’t stick in my memory. I will make a point of noting whether it is there next time!

“Free Bird” was played by a graduating senior on an electric guitar at Bear River High School about ten years ago. Sadly they did not do it at later graduations I attended—perhaps they had second thoughts about telling 18 year old that they should not be caged anymore.

I can’t remember what songs were played at Zeppelin U. , though I remember they had an excellent music program. (Hah! Bet you thought that was where Handel’s Messiah was produced!

The most impressive choirs were at the Karen Refugee Camps, where there were probably about 300 voices singing the multiple parts of Alleluia Chorus under a tin roof. The choirs in the refugee camp practice a great deal (there is not much else to do in a refugee camp) and the performance was outstanding both years that I attended the graduation there. They also did “Onward Christian Soldiers,” but sang it in Karen under that same tin roof at both graduations.

“Climb Every Mountain” was done by the Payap University Choir at a graduation I attended last week, and they too did a wonderful job. There were perhaps thirty well-trained members of the choir from the “Thai Side” of the campus (as opposed to the English-speaking “International Side.”


There must be a message about why each group chose the various songs. “Onward Christian Soldiers” (in Karen) is perhaps the most notable. Refugees have by definition been expelled violently from their country and there is an interest in re-conquest, whether spiritually, or through military action. The camp I heard the song is known for its political support of the Karen National Union, and supplying soldiers to the Karen National Army.


“Free Bird” and “Climb Every Mountain” both appeal to the idea that graduations is a beginning of a new adventure—that the old is left behind, and there are new adventures to choose. All that I find odd here is that two very different institutions, Bear River High School, and Payap University had such similar themes, both drawn from popular western music. Sometimes I guess East and West do meet!