Day 6 – Oklahoma City to Amarillo
Today was a blur of activity and distance traveled. We had some fascinating conversations and also moved horizontally across Oklahoma and Texas with great efficiency.
Oklahoma City is enjoying a rebirth and a renewed economic vibrancy. There is a lot of civic pride and engagement. Our first session included Randy Grau, a 1998 Seaver graduate who is now a lawyer and the 2nd Deputy of Oklahoma County's District Three Office (his boss is Ray Vaughn, a friend and mentor of mine from my Oklahoma days); Dean Bogle, a Pepperdine parent and a life insurance and financial planning professional; and Leslie Spears, communications manager for the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. We met at the museum – one of the city's true points of pride – and toured its remarkable, permanent Dale Chihuly exhibit.
One participant in this first meeting spoke earnestly about the importance of government trusting the people, and another encouraged government to speak less and to listen more. The indomitable spirit of Oklahoma continues it seems.
Despite my best efforts to squeeze out a criticism of higher education (constructive or otherwise) the comments were favorable about our work. More attention to encouraging good citizenship, financial responsibility, and an understanding of economics were offered as topics that would enable the student upon graduation. This is another interview where more time with the actual transcripts will yield depth and nuance.
On to Weatherford and a meeting with T. E. "Ed" Tippens, Jr. and Jim Lovell. Ed Tippens is the proud father of Pepperdine's provost Darryl Tippens. Ed is also a farming and ranching innovator, a long-time vocational agriculture teacher, and a resident of the area since Route 66 (as we know it today) was just a dirt trail. Jim Lovell is a retired professor, who focused his career on the environment and now leads the Heartland Museum in Weatherford.
Ed is a storyteller of the first order. Before beginning this trip I read his recent book, Along the Way, and I found his story compelling and familiar. His stories and his prose are reflective of the lives of all who made their lives and their living from hard work in the soil of this nation. While visiting, one of Ed's former students joined the discussion. The affection and the warmth of shared memories were perfect for the occasion.
After lunch we made a brief stop at the museum Jim Lovell is curating. Once again, in Ed Tippens and Jim Lovell we found people proud of their heritage and eager to honor it. We also found individuals unafraid of hard work and long odds. It was a visit filled with great stories, a lot of laughter, and a vision focused on the next hill, the next challenge, and the joy of it all.
We made our way to the historic U-Drop Inn (no, I am not kidding) in Shamrock, Texas. There we met Wes Beck, a 28-year veteran of Texas public schools and now superintendent of the Shamrock Schools, and Pam Halliburton, a junior high English teacher (there must be a special place in Heaven for junior high English teachers), whose husband is the athletic director and football coach at the high school.
In some ways this part of the nation is untouched by the faith neutrality of the past decade or so. A "minute of silence" begins each school day and most students know this means prayer. Shamrock does not struggle with the importance of God, faith, and personal conviction. There was a plea to avoid the intrusion of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind initiative and further an articulated desire to be left alone to do their work with students. As hard as the job is already, "legislators who are not educators" complicate the task considerably.
Across the street, my colleagues found a first-year high school student, an engaging young woman who could not have been more positive about her hometown, its schools, or her future.
Shamrock has a big heart and a lot of good values firmly in place. At this point the small town offers a strong appeal and different perspective from what I hear in Washington, D.C. One voice resounds from the vortex of power and policy development, and the other, powerful in a different way, is offered firmly and with no less conviction, from Main Street. A question I would like to explore with you if you'd care to respond, is whether they can co-exist?
Tomorrow is Sunday and we have lot of distance to travel early in the day. Among the benefits of this trip, I have particularly enjoyed the opportunity to know some of my younger colleagues better. They are good and talented people who have found Pepperdine to be a place where faith and vocation coincide. I just finished reading the Letter to the Galatians and those thoughts will travel with me in the morning.