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esse quam videri

North Carolina’s state motto is "esse quam videri," which translates to “to be, rather than to seem."

Published onMar 01, 2022
esse quam videri

North Carolina’s state motto is esse quam videri, which translates to “to be, rather than to seem."

State seal of North Carolina, 1971-1984, January 1st. Accessed from Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

Writing activity + Personal reflection

Encourage students to write a response to North Carolina’s state motto. Use the following guiding questions to help with your writing":

  • What do you think “To be, rather than to seem” means?

  • What can we learn from this idea or call?

  • What does it remind you of?


Following the individual writing, facilitate a class discussion on the motto, how they interpret the meaning, and what it means for the state. Draw upon the following discussion questions:

  • What is the purpose of a state motto? 

  • How does it possibly impact the state?

  • How do you interpret this motto?

  • What does it mean for a governmental body to claim the importance of “being” over “seeing?”

  • Where else do you think this motto might apply?


Younger grades

Ask students to compose their own mottos. What might their motto be, and why? What does it mean to them?

Another activity could encourage students to design and create their own seals or logos. This could serve as a way to introduce or scaffold the concepts of symbolism, imagery, and visual literacy.


Align the North Carolina state motto with Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy. What does it mean to be able to identify Shakespeare in our North Carolina state motto? What would Hamlet think of the concept “to be, rather than to seem?” What might the other characters respond to this? Additionally, which characters embody the sense of “being?” Which characters embody the sense of “seeming?” What is the difference here, and why does that matter?

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