I just discovered the KC school song is not original

Ah, 2020. In addition to the pandemic and everything else, I discovered that my beloved secondary school song was plagiarized.

King’s College, Lagos (KC) is Nigeria’s most well known secondary school. Former students (or Old Boys) are everywhere in business and politics and include Nigerian household names like Hakeem Belo-Osagie, Bayo Ogunlesi, Lamido Sanusi. Real business gets done at our old boys’ meetings, and given the size and distribution of the class, there’s always someone you should be talking to. 

Most importantly, KC Old Boys are proud of the school’s history. KC was set up in 1909 by the British colonial government to “provide for the youth.. a higher education than those supplied by existing schools”. KC was founded before Nigeria the country (1960) and Nigeria the British protectorate (1914). We carried ourselves accordingly. KC students and alumni fought in WWII and for Nigeria’s independence. It’s impossible to talk about Nigerian history without Kings’ College. 

The school song is an important part of our shared experience. We sing it everywhere. I have joined other old boys to yell all 4 verses as other wedding guests sat confused. We sing (solemnly) at funerals. We sing at Old Boys’ meetings. We sing to remember the old, good times. The song is the soundtrack to our KC identity. We even use the first word of the school song – “Floreat!”- as a greeting to other old boys. It’s our thing.

Then I stumbled on this video.

Why were these old, white men singing our school song? Strange.

The title and comments sent me down a rabbit hole that ruined everything.

Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall, was founded in 1554, before the first Europeans visited Africa. Like King’s College, it also has accomplished alumni. And like Kings’ College Lagos, the same school song.

King’s College Lagos on the left, Queen Mary’s on the right

One difference is the first line of the school song. “Floreat Collegium Schola Mariae” or “May the school of Queen Mary flourish” which Kings College replaced with the similar sounding “Floreat Collegium shall our motto be”.

Looking back, it should have been obvious. The first line of the KC version is “Floreat Collegium, shall our motto be”, but our actual motto is “Spero Lucem” (we hope for light).

In the News| King's College Lagos 110... - King's College Old Boys'  Association
“Spero Lucem” shall our motto be doesn’t quite have the same ring to it

From the archivist at QMGS, I learned the song was written in 1908, specifically for QMGS. FG Layton, the author said this was the only thing he’d done that would outlive him. He might just have been right.

Sigh. 

Perhaps, it should have been expected. We know now that the school’s founders weren’t creating “leaders for the colony” but an army of subordinates to make the colony easier to manage. [1]

On the other hand, maybe the community is bigger than we thought. KC Boys can think of QMGS as a sister school, and the song as a shared experience across both schools many miles apart. And we will still continue to sing, because the song means more than just words to those who sing it, whether they are from Lagos or Walsall. I choose to remember it that way, and the words still ring true. Service to our living, Honor to our dead.

[1] The British colonial government wanted “African subordinates to serve the [British] central government” and a ‘”…limited number of educated Nigerians..” Check out this paper for more.

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