One common tie binding Rubie McClellan Davis’ Fort Meade High School with many others throughout the United States was the choice of its class motto. I wouldn’t have known this, of course, if it hadn’t been for the inspiration of reprinting the graduation program of the Class of 1919 as their place cards for a class reunion dinner held fifty eight years later. Nor would I have known about it, except that the occasion meant so much to my grandmother that she saved the entire package of keepsakes from the event, along with a letter from her good friend and fellow classmate, Zemla Doke Griffith.
The class motto had such a poetic ring to it, I wanted to know more about its source. So I Googled it, naturally.
I was surprised the search yielded no results for any actual originator. Here I was expecting it to be a line from an inspirational poem, but apparently there is no such creation. While Google™ was quick to point out all the high schools across the nation which have used this saying as their class motto, it could not lead me to the source of the sentiment, nor any composition in which the line was included. All I could find were a few books listing pithy sayings and proverbs. One book actually included the saying in a section labeled, “Class Mottoes.” No editor could be found from those resources, all published in the first few years after 1900, equipped to label this particular sentiment as a quote from any historic figure, orator or essayist.
How could that be? That line is just screaming for some artful handling.
Perhaps we must be satisfied to chalk it up to a case of editorial evolution. Perhaps it had no creator.
With the close of the letter from Zemla to Rubie, perhaps you are wondering if there is any “rest of the story.” Who was this lifelong friend who was still exchanging letters with her classmates upwards of fifty years later?
Zemla Doke—according to her obituary—was born in Fort Meade, Florida, on July 23, 1902. Incredibly, she remained in that small town for the next eighty five years. After graduating from the town’s high school in 1919—as we’ve already seen—she attended and graduated from Florida Southern College in Lakeland. This was the beginning of a thirty year teaching career, first in Fort Meade, and then for the Pinellas County schools, as a first grade teacher.
On June 2, 1925, Zemla married Daniel Evan Griffith in Tampa. Dan and Zemla had a son and a daughter, and eventually—as we could guess from her letter—several grandchildren. Dan predeceased Zemla by over thirty years, passing away in 1963. Zemla joined him on June 5, 1995, at the age of ninety two. Though Zemla had moved from Fort Meade to Lakeland in 1987, she was returned to Fort Meade for burial at New Hope Cemetery there.
As for Rubie, a few years following Zemla’s 1983 letter, she did indeed see her husband Jack’s health decline for the years leading up to his 1988 death. Her own passing—as often seems to happen with lifelong couples—followed only a few years later, on a spring day in May, seventy four years after that first graduation ceremony for the Class of ’19.