School's Namesake Reflects on Honor

Comments by Bobbie Smith at
Smith School’s Dec. 8 Naming Ceremony

Thank you so much for this tremendous honor. Thank you to everyone who made this happen, especially the Board of Education, superintendent and all of you. Thank you also to Doug Heath of Cubberley School, who helped to initiate the school’s name change.

We’ve called this school “Burnett” for so long. Switching to “Smith Elementary” might take some getting used to. But personally, I like the sound of it.

I attended grade school in Mississippi. That was a long time ago, when black children had to attend separate schools from white children. Most of us were children of sharecroppers trying to make a living by growing corn, sweet potatoes, peanuts and cotton. I never dreamed that one day I’d have a school named after me. But I did have dreams of a better life, and I was fortunate to have caring teachers and a family that broke free from the cycle of poverty.

A few years after I attended school in Mississippi, the United States Supreme Court ruled that schools could no longer separate black children from other students based on the color of their skin. This year marks the 60th anniversary of that decision, the landmark Brown vs. The Board of Education ruling. How far we have come since then.

Yes, sometimes change is a good thing.

Today I look at the faces of these 800 children, and I think of another person who dreamed of a better life for all of us. His name was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King’s dream, which he said was deeply rooted in the American Dream, was that one day this nation would rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

That’s a big dream. It’s easier said than done, and we’re still working on it. But schools like this are places where that dream can become a reality. Dignity and equality come from a good education. No one can take that away, ever.

In my life, education has made all the difference. And it will do the same for the students at this school for many years to come. To have my name attached to such a worthwhile mission fills my heart with joy.

A friend of the family is rooting me on today. Her name is Thelma Houston, and she’s a Grammy winner. Well, today I feel like I won a Grammy, Emmy, Oscar and Tony award all rolled into one. There’s an abbreviation for that. It’s called a GEOT – Grammy, Emmy, Oscar, Tony – and not too many people have accomplished that. You can also add to that list, “Lifetime Achievement Award,” because that’s how this feels.

To our students, I encourage you to take advantage of the great opportunities in our schools. If you work hard, you never know where it will take you. It’ll probably take you beyond your wildest dreams. When that happens, you’ll understand how I feel today. I certainly did not expect all of this. But that’s quite OK. Change is a good thing.