What’s in a name?


Design by Timothy Stolp

This article was previously published in the 2019 September Issue of the Statesman.

Previously published in 2019 September Issue
What do you know about Ben Reifel and Thomas Jefferson?

It is a question as old as time; Shakespeare doted on it in one of his most famous lines, from Romeo and Juliet, and here’s the secret: The power of a name depends on how much you give it.

Last year, the frenzy of two new schools, from voting to approve the $190 million bond to build them to the announcement of the names, was the talk of Sioux Falls. Thomas Jefferson High School and Ben Reifel Middle School will be the newest additions to the ever-expanding school district.

The naming for both schools was a collaborative decision made by committees of administrators, teachers, parents and community members, who reviewed online submissions. The decision was ultimately made by the public, rather than the school board or the school district itself.

“Schools are a community,” said LHS principal Dr. Laura Raeder. “Schools’ names are so community-driven, too.”

Yet, the significance of these names may be lost on this generation of students, which can seem so removed from these figures. The question then becomes: What can be done to teach why these names matter so much as to memorialize them with a school?

“I’m always a proponent of more education,” said Raeder. “I think perhaps Ben Reifel might be the one we need to help people with more, but I think that is an easy thing to fix.”

Raeder sees this period of beginnings for the schools less as a challenge than an opportunity.

“[Those schools will] come to their own identity,” said Raeder. “At George McGovern, they have this mural with an airplane outside the lunchroom; the kids [there] obviously learn and talk about who this person is and their values.”

“I believe the same will happen [at the new schools],” continued Raeder. “Just like we, the Patriots, understand Abraham Lincoln and some of the dealings of his time.”

Clearly, our community has reverence for these influential people and what they symbolize. They represent values that we collectively want to instill in the next generation. As a school community, it will give students a greater opportunity to feel connected with these people. And, as a community of schools, we have the same opportunity to learn from the past to help our present.

Shakespeare’s Romeo considers the question “What’s in a name?,” uttering, “That which we call a rose by any other name would be just as sweet.” 

If any other name were just as sweet, ask yourself why then these names were chosen. Be curious, dig deeper, learn. Then, share it with the rest of us.