If you're going to be first, there is no sense being tentative about it. Be first, officially.

Who is better positioned to understand that than a first-grader?

So it was that, when Anabelle O'Malley's first grade class at Mount Pleasant Elementary School heard that the nickname 'The First State' isn't official, they decided it was high time to do something about it.

After all, that designation has been emblazoned on license plates for several years. It also shows up in a variety of other contexts and has become part and parcel of life in the -- where else? -- First State.

What's more, it is something that we -- or our forebears -- earned. They got together  way back in December, 1787, to ratify the new U.S. Constitution. For all of five days, until Pennsylvania decided to come along, we were not only the first, we were only state.

When the class decided not to settle for a nickname that, despite all its historic significance, is unofficial, the class realized  it has a bit of political clout to back up its resolve.

Olivia Smith is a member and her dad, Wayne Smith, just happens to be majority leader of the state House of Representatives. In fact, it was during his show-and-tell what-daddy-does kind of visit to the class that the situation came to light.

He informed them about a section in the Delaware Code -- that is, the state law book -- which makes things official. It includes the state seal, the state flag and the state song. Also to be found there are the official state tree (the American holly), the official state bug (the lady bug), the official state fish (the weakfish), the official state butterfly (the tiger swallowtail) and the official state bird (the blue hen chicken, of course).

Soon to be there, if legislation officially introduced by Representative Smith and co-sponsored by Senators Cathy Cloutier and David Sokola passes, is the official state nickname, 'The First State'.

But the class is not taking anything for granted. They've learned that if you want something to happen, you have to work for it. In the political process, that's what the grownups call lobbying.

The class is building support for their idea by writing to other first grades around the state. If at least some of those classes pass the word to other legislators, that's something the grownups call creating a groundswell.

When Representative Smith's bill comes up for debate and discussion in the General Assembly in March, the class will be there on a field trip. And they've been promised the privilege of the floor to let their views be known.

And the word will go forth that, after 214 years and a couple of months, Delaware is officially the First State.

Posted on February 8, 2002

2002. All rights reserved.

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