AJ Pitkin (07), Scott McGowan (08), and Jack Gillette (18) knew the fight song they would create for PLNU would be bigger than any of their ideas and efforts. Rather, it would be a testament to those who have come before and those who will shape PLNU in the future. Pitkin serves as director of new student engagement at PLNU, and McGowan is the director of community life. Gillette is a freelance composer and a producer at Singing Serpent Music. Together, they endeavored to craft a fight song that would inspire, entertain, and bring together everyone who calls PLNU home.
“We wanted to integrate them well, to foster a deeper sense of belonging and connection to this place that transcends time,” Pitkin said. “To realize they are a part of a much larger body of students, alums, and friends of this place.”
McGowan and Pitkin have worked together since 2019, but before that, they were roommates during undergrad at PLNU. Today, they often discuss the events and activities that made them feel more engaged with school spirit when they were students.
“For the past three years that we’ve been working together, our thoughts have centered around fostering a greater sense of belonging and deepening the culture at Point Loma,” Pitkin said.
In early 2022, Pitkin began brainstorming with Melanie Wolf, associate dean of student care and engagement at PLNU, to create a new orientation event for freshmen students. Pitkin commented that even though PLNU does have an Alma Mater, they often only sing it at graduation, and students may have a hard time feeling excited about the reverential song at sports and school spirit events. They were inspired by a tradition at Westmont College where returning students would come teach a fight song to the freshmen on their first day. Pitkin wanted to create a similar event that would help usher new students into the PLNU community.
McGowan explained that PLNU’s associated student body was thrilled with the idea of creating a fight song. Emma McHugh, the current ASB director of school spirit, sought to make 2022-23 a crucial relaunch year for school spirit and engagement, especially for underclassmen who hadn’t experienced PLNU as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were always looking at this academic year as an opportunity for a true bounce-back from the throes of COVID,” McGowan said. “Not just to reclaim what Point Loma used to be, but to bring new life to our student body.”
With Wolf’s support, Pitkin and McGowan put together a team of PLNU staff to brainstorm lyric ideas and collect examples of other universities’ fight songs. Pitkin said they were initially planning to write new lyrics but borrow a melody from another university’s fight song. However, they first reached out to PLNU’s music professors to see if they had any advice. Daniel Jackson, DWS, the chair of the Department of Music at PLNU, recommended they reach out to Jack Gillette to compose an original melody. Gillette was involved in Worship Arts, choirs, and ensembles at PLNU, and made an impact with his dedication to worship, musical excellence, and creativity.
“It was so humbling to be invited into that process to make something that so many people are going to experience,” Gillette said. “I felt so entrusted right away.”
Pitkin sent Gillette a Google doc full of the brainstorm team’s notes, lyric ideas, and a list of inspiring songs. Gillette explained it helped him understand what they hoped for the song.
“It helped me remember what’s unique to Point Loma, what people get excited about while they’re there and remember fondly when they’re gone,” Gillette said.
Gillette realized that PLNU is different from schools with large marching bands and football teams. Instead of a traditional-sounding fight song, he wanted to develop a style that would lend itself to unaccompanied voices, and sound appealing even when sung by a small group. Gillette imagined that a sea shanty, although unconventional, would suit PLNU’s student body.
“The idea of the sea shanty format seemed to make a lot of sense, because you don’t need instruments, it’s easy to remember, and the harmony is intuitive,” Gillette said.
Gillette remembered that although PLNU is small, they’re still competitive and successful. Gillette wanted the fight song to have elements of grit and optimism that sea shanties convey.
“Pirates have a sort of underdog mentality,” Gillette said. “There’s a fun, scrappy element to Point Loma.”
Pitkin was initially worried when Gillette sprung the sea shanty idea on the call with the ASB board, since it didn’t seem like a genre that would fit their vision of how PLNU should be represented.
“He started to explain what a sea shanty is, and at that moment, I thought we had picked the wrong person,” Pitkin said. “But when he played it, I was dumbstruck, and I immediately saw where this song could go.”
It was ultimately up to the ASB student leaders to choose a fight song, but Gillette’s concept immediately won the support of Pitkin and McGowan.
“We were elated that Jack had not only the vision for that, but that he took the time to explain the why behind it,” Pitkin said. “It just speaks to his ability to deliver an idea that everybody’s excited about.”
Gillette said that although the catchy melody he pitched was accompanied by placeholder lyrics, a lot of his original lyric ideas made it into the final song. Gillette ended up playing a larger role in the lyric writing process than he anticipated.
“The idea of the sea shanty format seemed to make a lot of sense, because you don’t need instruments, it’s easy to remember, and the harmony is intuitive.”
Not every idea was included in the final piece, however. Pitkin shared some hilarious placeholder lines that Gillette wrote during the brainstorming process that were omitted for their silliness.
“My favorite cut lyric was, ‘if you’ve read your Bible, you know the tale is true — what the Red Sea did to pharaoh the Green Sea will to you!’” Pitkin said.
There were some lines that were points of friendly debate during the creative process. One line calls Sunset Cliffs a “stronghold” for PLNU students, but there was some discussion whether another word would fit better.
“I liked ‘Sunset Cliffs is our fortress,’ since it rhymes better,” McGowan said. “But we talked about how ‘fortress’ evokes more like a castle, versus a stronghold, which can be any base of operations — even caves or cliffs.”
“One definition of stronghold was ‘a place where a cause or belief is defended or upheld,’” Pitkin added. “I think that’s what Point Loma represents.”
One line that has resonated with PLNU students is, “The lions of the sea, we bring calamity.” McGowan described the word calamity — in addition to rhyming strongly with lions of the sea — evoked the perfect mood for PLNU’s fight song. The line ended up near the end of the fight song, since they decided to lead with the heart of PLNU before taunting opposing teams.
“I think the word ‘calamity’ was old-fashioned, and had a fun sense of quirky aggression to it,” Gillette said. “In sports, you’re fighting people, but you’re not actually causing real problems for them.”
“A lot of the prominent fight songs we looked at around the country have really aggressive lyrics, and we wanted to move away from that,” McGowan added. “The calamity language is a bit more playful, but it still says that we’re scrappy and going to fight until the end.”
Pitkin and McGowan praised the ASB leaders for personifying this fighting spirit and incorporating “calamity” as a key catchword at sporting events.
“The single most popular piece of Loma swag this year was a limited run of Green hoodies that Emma [McHugh] ran,” McGowan said. “It had a cartoon pirate on the front and written on the back was the line, ‘We’re the lions of the sea, we bring calamity.’”
Pitkin and McGowan initially deemphasized their involvement in the fight song’s creation. They hoped this would make the song feel less trendy, less attached to student engagement initiatives. They hoped the fight song would help students feel like they were a part of something bigger than themselves.
“From the get-go, Scott and I were very careful not to make it seem like this was our thing,” Pitkin said. “Even when we were communicating to other faculty, we just said, ‘Hey, we have a new fight song’ because we wanted people to feel like they had ownership of it.”
Gillette believes that the closing line — a flurry of ahoys — has become one of the most popular parts of the song. He thinks they’re just positive, accessible, and memorable enough to enable everyone to join in the fun. McGowan explained he appreciates that the ahoys transition into a bell ring — a tradition at PLNU to ring in a class of students at orientation and commencement. This provides a sense of excitement, comradery, and hope for the future. Just as they hope to encourage the singing of the fight song at future PLNU events, the ASB plans to incorporate the bell ringing into more events throughout the school year.
“I think the ahoys are the most important part,” McGowan said. “The song ends not with a sense of finality, but with a greeting.”