BY EDWIN E. VINEYARD
On the Saturday past, my wife and I went for a morning excursion to two inside-type home sales. We don’t do that very often these days, but in so doing, we came upon a veritable treasure trove.
At the first house, we found some exquisite Italian glassware. These had a golden label, shaped like a coat of arms, with the phrase “spes ultima deo” across the bottom. At the second house we found a living demonstration of that motto.
The three-word Latin phrase is literally translated to mean: “hope last god.” “Spes” was the Roman goddess of Hope. So, the phrase means, Hope, the last goddess; or something to the general effect: “Hold onto hope, after all else fails.”
Visiting the small white frame house on the east side of Enid, the older working class area of the city, we found something of an embodiment of that motto. It was a rejuvenating experience, a moment of epiphany. There we found not only a trove of out-of-stock glassware matching a collection of our friends, but we also encountered an interesting assemblage of nice people.
The mother of the household, a mature lady whose pleasant appearance bore signs of both work and worry, greeted us and took us quickly inside to see the advertised items, and eagerly explained everything. When our eyes drifted toward some homemade craft work, she explained, “I made those when I was sick and couldn’t hold my job.” That incomplete set was gifted to us as we bought several boxes of the coveted glassware. Two fresh-faced, wholesome teen-agers helped pack them and carried everything out for us.
While exchanging names concerning a possibility of more business, a younger woman spoke up, “Your son must be Dr. Vineyard at NOC. He was my teacher in macro-economics.” She went on to characterize him as a “great teacher” who made her, a recent divorcee with children and a bit frightened, feel comfortable and gain self-confidence. “He made us all believe in ourselves, that we could learn and succeed even though it was a difficult subject.”
Then came the coupe-de-grace, “I went on to graduate at NOC and then graduate from Northwestern. I am teaching in the elementary school here in Enid.”
Of course, we were proud of our son, who heads NOC-Enid. But I was also proud of this young woman, who by her own efforts, the help of others, and probably federal financial aid, managed to pull and push her way upward. I offered her commendations, but she was also proving the college a success.
I was also proud to have headed for 25 years a fine two-year college serving all comers from all socio-economic classes and of all levels of academic background. The two-year college has earned a reputation as “the Opportunity College, and well-deserved attention as making a great contribution to democratization in America.
For some years I served as a member, officer, and report writer for the National Commission on the Rural Two-Year College, publishing a monograph and journal articles on its work. We did our best to bring a national awareness to the role of these non-urban institutions, some 800 of them, scattered across these United States.
We extolled the virtues of these colleges as actualizing the American principle of equal opportunity for all. We pointed out that equal opportunity is possible only if equal access to higher education is provided. We pointed to the two-year college as the open doorway to the universities of this land.
Sadly, as time has passed, it has become more difficult for two-year colleges to play this opportunity role. With decreased public financial support, two year colleges have had to rely too much on tuition and fees. Private donations and philanthropy go mostly to the big universities, along with an increasing share of public money.
These institutions of democracy are no longer quite the open door they once were. Only with the availability of financial aids, mostly federal, have these colleges been able to keep serving those students who cannot go elsewhere. They have a demonstrably significant role to play in American education.
The local public two-year college might well be given the motto: “Spes ultima deo.” For they are indeed the last hope for many.
– Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard lives in Enid, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer