'Tis the season to be jolly?
Oklahoma's unemployment rate tops 7 percent. Layoffs, furloughs and buyouts are viral in both the public and private sectors. The state might need to hack as much as $1 billion from its $7.2 billion budget to make ends meet.
It all-too-often seems that if it weren't for bad news these days, we wouldn't have any news at all. The sad truth is, Oklahoma faces so many problems that a steady diet of bad news is inevitable. We rank at or near the bottom of almost every socioeconomic index, from public health to incarceration rates, poverty to teen pregnancy.
In the spirit of the season, however, I'm declaring a one column holiday from the state's most painful realities -- a moment of cheer to remember and celebrate all that is right with Oklahoma.
I prepared a list of Oklahoma superlatives, then asked my dear friend and legendary state journalist Frosty Troy for his. I've combined the two into a primer to share with friends and loved ones as you toast the season in the weeks ahead.
Oklahoma was one of six states that recently earned the highest grades for educational innovation, according to research by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute's Frederick M. Hess [the other states were California, New York, Massachusetts, Arizona and Indiana].
Oklahoma ranks in the top five states in percentage of National Board Certified public school teachers.
The University of Oklahoma has more National Merit Scholars enrolled than any other public university in the country.
The world's most dynamic, cutting-edge research into Alzheimer's is being conducted by Dr. Jordan Tang and researchers at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
Oklahoma State University is a national leader in sensor research, spinning out seven start-up companies and attracting more than $80 million in funding for research and development of radiation, chemical/biological, corrosion and explosives sensors, among others.
Oklahoma-bred musical talent is remarkable for a state this size -- from country superstars Carrie Underwood, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill and Toby Keith to Metropolitan Opera sensation Leona Mitchell.
OU's football teams have won seven national titles, OSU's athletic teams 44 NCAA championships and TU's six.
The first flowing oil well in America was in Oklahoma.
The first Boy Scout Troop in America was in Oklahoma .
Oklahoma has more miles of shoreline than Minnesota.
One of the largest Scottish Rite Temples in the world is in Guthrie--a 400,000 square feet masterpiece, sitting on 10.6 acres.
The first passenger plane was built in Oklahoma.
American Airlines was born in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma is home of the International Order of Rainbow Girls.
More tribes call Oklahoma home than any other state.
Oklahoma has an acre of water for every 44 acres of land.
Bulldogging was invented in Oklahoma by cowboy Bill Pickett.
Oklahoma was the location of three famous trails -- the Chisholm, the Texas cattle trail and the Santa Fe Trail.
More than half of Oklahoma's public school teachers hold master's degrees or better.
Since 1904, Oklahoma has had nearly 50 Rhodes scholars total.
Three of the initial astronauts were Oklahomans, including the first woman, Jerri Cobb. Oklahoma leads the nation in astronauts, including record-setting Shannon Lucid.
Thomas P. Stafford of Oklahoma was the commander of Apollo 10 on its eight-day voyage to the moon.
Life magazine hailed the Gilcrease Museum as "the best collection of art and literature on the American frontier," and the Philbrook is often hailed as one of the top five fine art museums in the U.S.
Only the Smithsonian Institution in Washington has more Indian lore than Oklahoma's Historical Society.
Oklahoma typically is in the top five in wheat and pecan production [depending on the weather!], as well as oil and gas production.
One-fourth of Oklahoma is forested -- almost 10 million acres, home to 144 native species.
Like to fly? Oklahoma averages 350 flying days a year, thanks to almost no fog or smog.
Oklahoma is home to 25 Native languages -- more than any other state.
Oklahoma's pre-Kindergarten program is a national leader--ranked No. 1 by the National Institute for Early Education Research for standards, quality and access.
Oklahoma is home to the U.S. Air Force Air Materiel Command's largest air logistics center--Tinker Air Force Base.
The Federal Aviation Administration Center, where controllers are trained, is in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma ACT scores were third in the entire south last year, topping all but Virginia and Texas.
Oklahoma is in the top five states nationally in the percentage of its youth going to college.
Who discovered Oklahoma? Coronado in 1541.
Indian Territory was the scene of 28 battles and skirmishes during the Civil War.
Oklahoma's Capitol is the only one that had a working oil well beneath it.
Oklahoma has more man-made lakes than any other state.
The list is hardly exhaustive. I didn't even mention some of the Oklahomans who most prominently helped shape our world -- from Will Rogers and Woody Guthrie to U.S. House Speaker Carl Albert and Sen. Robert S. Kerr, the uncrowned king of the Senate.
The truth is, Oklahoma has much to crow about, despite what often seems to be intractable problems. It's worth pondering the good -- as we confront the bad -- this holiday season.
-Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
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