Tuesday, January 02, 2007

O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A, Oklahoma!

This is an interesting time to be a new Oklahoman because this state is gearing up in world-class fashion to celebrate its 100th year of statehood in 2007. While Oklahoma will officially celebrate its 100th anniversary on November 16, 2007, all across the state, communities and organizations have been getting ready and the celebration kicked off in Tulsa in November.

A Centennial Commission was formed in the late ‘90s and funded with millions and millions of public and private dollars. They have been working ever since to assist in the planning and funding of hundreds of unique projects across the state. Communities and organizations are creating monuments, public art, fountains, parks or cultural facilities that reflect local or state history, while others are restoring historical sites and structures. Most are planning special commemorations or are enhancing traditional festivals and annual events.

It seems that everyone is getting on board. Almost every business, school, organizations, media outlet, cultural venue, library and museum is planning feverishly to celebrate Oklahoma’s unique history in their own way. The long list of projects that are part of the Oklahoma Centennial Celebration is quite amazing.

There are also some national programs that will coincide with the 100th anniversary including the issue of a special Oklahoma postage stamp that says “Oh What A Beautiful Morning”, as well as this state’s commemorative quarter.

I’m proud that my employer – public television – will be right in there producing special documentaries and specials on the state’s history and broadcasting the largest public events of the celebration, the Gala Celebration and Parade happening in the fall. Our talented documentary unit has already produced a series of Centennial Stories that are both unique and entertaining.

It seems that the goal of the Centennial Commission is two-fold; to support and lift up those in the state through these various statewide Oklahoma pride and beautification programs, and to promote to the rest of the world that Oklahoma is a creative, interesting, thriving place to be.

I must admit that Oklahoma’s image needs to be shined up. Coming from Texas, I never even thought much about Oklahoma and when I did it was in a joking fashion, usually having to do with OU football. When I envisioned Oklahoma in my mind at all, it was usually scenes of the dust bowl and those poor Okies who lost everything in the depression.

Since living here, I have learned that this state has an interesting past. What other state had its beginnings in such a dramatic and wild fashion as the land run? The Trail of Tears brought 62 Indian nations to the state, 39 of which remain today. There was oil. Lots and lots of oil that contributed to creating unique political situations and the higher education system in this state is among the best quality and value in the country. Believe it, or not, there are actually pockets of natural beauty, too! Oklahoma really does have a lot going for it, but it needed to dust itself off, clean itself up and promote its best assets to its own people who tend to have an inferiority complex, and to the rest of world who have the wrong preconceived notions of the state.

And that’s exactly what this Centennial Commission has done, and I applaud their efforts. They have elicited the right leadership that has resulted in projects of the highest, world-class quality.

I’ve enjoyed a few different Centennial events, already.

The CD “Oklahoma Rising” was released a couple of months ago and it’s a great sampler of classic and contemporary Oklahoma artists from all genres. Natives Jimmy Webb and Vince Gill teamed up to write to the title song that will be the anthem for the year. Oklahoma Rising is a pretty good song although I don’t think mainstream radio will know what to do with it – it’s sort of country and sort of eclectic and sort of praise music – so it doesn’t fit nicely into any one category. But it’s a good song.

Oklahoma also had a great float entered in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Sandi Patti sang Oklahoma Rising.

I thought that parade entry was pretty unique until I watched the Rose Bowl Parade yesterday! The whole event seemed like one big tribute to Oklahoma and it was incredibly well done. The opening sequence featured Miss America (an Oklahoman) who introduced the Oklahoma Centennial Marching Band and the dance troupe from Oklahoma City University who performed the parade’s theme song. That adorable Oklahoman Kristen Chenoweth sang the theme song and it was great.

Oklahoma then had an unprecedented 2 floats in the parade, which the parade officials called extremely rare, but they were both so good that they wanted them both to be included. One of these floats, “Unique History”, won the most coveted award, the “Extraordinaire Trophy”, beating out that cool fire-breathing dragon float. You have to admit, when that guy came flying out from the center of the float using a rocket pack, that was pretty dramatic and cool. (Granted, they have so many awards in that parade that almost every entry wins something, but this was a biggie!).

Again, I’m proud of my PBS station because we had a crew there covering the event and gathering footage for some special OETA productions.

It was a good Oklahoma day. Granted, OU lost the Fiesta Bowl last night to little Boise State, but even losing in overtime, that was one of the most exciting games I have ever seen. And I always love it when the underdog wins.

So maybe that’s why I’m so in hopes that Oklahoma, a perennial underdog in the continuous 48 states, enjoys its time in the sun in 2007. Maybe people will begin to see the state differently. Or maybe it will just be a great party. Either way, it’s going to be a big year here! You should come check it out.


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