In the name of Emily Griffith, give me "Opportunity" or give me death!

Emily Griffith at work.
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.

Emily Griffith Memorial
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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Dear Susan,Thank you so much for caring enough about the future of our school to write about it in your blog. As I personally might feel a little bit of nostalgia about the word “Opportunity” being taken out of our name, I can assure you that this still is very much a place of hope and new beginnings for many of our students. I am Dean of Instruction of English as a Second Language at Emily Griffith Technical College and I can tell you firsthand this place has offered me, personally, nothing but courage, hope and opportunity. I started as a student in our ESL Department 14 years ago and became the Dean of the largest and oldest ESL program in the state of Colorado only five years after I arrived here as a refugee from war-torn Bosnia.  I agree with you that the world has changed a lot since 1916 and so have the immigration laws or simply acceptance as you call it, but that is not the case when it comes to Emily Griffith Technical College…and I strongly believe that will not change as a result of our name change. The name “college” means a lot to our students, as we learned when many of them voted for our name change.  Times have changed, indeed, and today newcomers perceive more opportunity coming from an accredited college than from a school by any other name. While you or I cannot change the whole world to make it more accepting, we can most certainly start with ourselves—you with the acceptance of our new name and me with making sure that this wonderful institution, that I am so proud to be a part of, remains a bountiful source of hope and opportunity, regardless of what it is named. Please, come and visit us sometime; I would love to show you all the great things we do here and how we (still) promote acceptance, peace, and education for all who wish to learn.

Jef Otte
Jef Otte

I got my GED from Emily Griffith way back in the day. Totally agree on this one.

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