(If you have any issues with the Latin above, take it up with Google Translate.)
At the risk of losing my street cred, I have to admit being edified and inspired by an event at the Statehouse today.
The occasion: The Senate Government Operations Committee taking up a bill to establish Stella Quarta Decima Fulgeat as an alternate motto for the state of Vermont.
This proposal has famously been the target of unedifying and uninspiring commentary, mistakenly conflating Latin with Latino, criticizing it as a waste of time, and wrongly complaining that the new motto would supplant “Freedom and Unity.”
Angela Kubicke and the motto bill’s sponsor Sen. Joe Benning, with the broad shoulders and flowing mane of Seven Days’ Paul “Party in the Back” Heintz in the middle.
The hearing was attended by roughly five dozen middle- and high-school students of Latin, along with teachers, parents, and three Classicists from the University of Vermont. The hearing’s central figure was 15-year-old Angela Kubicke, who had the original idea for the Latin motto and, with her teacher and others, came up with the exact wording. The first three words, translated as “The Fourteenth Star,” appeared on the first coin minted in the 1780s by the then-independent Vermont. “Fulgeat,” the verb, completes the sentence “May the fourteenth star shine brightly.” Kubicke and her teacher, Ray Starling, gave a thorough account of the historical rationale for their proposal.
One of the other witnesses almost stole the show. If you were casting the part of a tenured professor of classical languages, you might just see Robert Rodgers as a gift of the gods. Slightly tousled gray hair, well-trimmed gray beard, glasses, precise in speech to the point of pedantry, his testimony was perched delicately on the border between entertaining and aggravating. As committee chair Jeanette White admitted afterward, “I forgot that professors are used to talking in 45-minute increments.” Professor Rodgers went nowhere near that long, but with the chair’s forbearance he blithely ignored the two-minute time limit per speaker. It was a rare opportunity for a Classicist to speak to a lay audience on a subject dear to his heart, and he was (in his own reserved way) happy as a pig in slop.
Still, he was an effective if nerdy (and wordy) witness, praising “Fulgeat” as “a felicitous choice for a verb,” parsing its contextual meanings and citing its use by the Roman poet Virgil.
Three students from Lamoille Union High School also spoke to the committee, defending Latin as a foundation of modern science, architecture, music, and Western languages. At the end, committee member Chris Bray commended Kubicke and her fellow speakers for the “depth of thought” behind the motto.
And then came the vote: FIve in favor, zero opposed. The bill goes on to the full Senate on Friday.
For the many who complained about the bill being a “waste of time,” you should have been there. Everyone — Senators, professors, teachers, and students — were fully engaged in the process and the issue. It took less than an hour all told, and it was a great learning experience for all. I’ve got nothing cynical to say about it in the least.