Word has just come down that Emily Griffith Opportunity School has undergone a name change. The century-old institution, created by educator Emily Griffith to offer quality (and, at the time, free) vocational instruction to Denver's huddled masses, will heretofore be known as Emily Griffith Technical College, a dumbed-down nomenclature that drearily speaks of a lifetime filled with drudgery rather than hope.
Griffith's motto for the school was thus:
For all who wish to learn. We welcome all people, regardless of age, race or education level, who want to expand their horizons and chart their own course for success.
How this school, where thousands have learned to become wise mechanics, talented seamstresses and upholsterers, bookkeepers, cake decorators and English speakers, will benefit from this name change and uphold the headmistress's lofty promise, I'll never know.
I've never taken a class at Emily Griffith myself, but when I was a kid growing up in the '60s, my mother taught ESL and citizenship classes there for a while. The credo of Emily Griffith, which we always just called "Opportunity School," did at that time truly signify her eager students' chance to grab the brass ring of opportunity in America, and that global tribe of immigrants and citizenship hopefuls were more than grateful for her encouragement and expertise. At each class's end, my mother brought home all manner of teacher booty gifted to her by a worldly crew: Japanese geisha dolls in glass cases, silk scarves, tabi slippers and hand-painted fans. It was sweet recompense for that gift of new beginnings she offered in return.
Is opportunity what will still be dealt to all who are willing to work for it at the Emily Griffith Technical College? The world isn't what it was in 1916, when the school opened, or even when my mother worked there so long ago. The political tenets of the New Deal, Camelot and the Great Society are long gone, and the nature and general acceptance of immigration have changed. There is no hope left in America, it would seem, and this name change, however minor in the scheme of things, is just another indication that we've gotten selfish, cynical, downright mean. And boring, too. Ho-hum.
Until this week, Emily Griffith continued to sing of possibilities and bright futures. What happened? Emily Griffith, please. Change it back to "Opportunity" while you still can.
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