Despite Online Critics, Teenager Lobbies For Latin State Motto

Feb 10, 2015

A ninth grader from the Northeast Kingdom is asking lawmakers to give Vermont what many other states already have — a Latin motto.

Angela Kubicke hatched the idea last year while she was studying classic literature and language. It’s unleashed a flood of nasty and ill-informed comments on social media, but that’s just strengthened Kubicke’s resolve.

Here’s how she would introduce herself if she were speaking to Roman legislators. “Salvete omnes mihi nomen est Angela,” she says, without having to look it up.

The freshman at St. Johnsbury Academy is taking advanced Latin courses online. But she’s taking a homework break in an Academy conference room to prep for this week’s Statehouse testimony. Her coach and mentor is Roy Starling, a teacher from nearby Riverside School who helped her launch her motto campaign last year. When she was his eighth grade Latin student, Starling told her that colonial Vermont once minted its own one-cent coin.

The Harmon cent, minted in Rupert, is the inspiration for a Latin state motto proposed by ninth-grader Angela Kubicke.
Credit Reproduced from original / Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame

“And it became the common currency of all of New England, and on this coin there was a short Latin saying that we thought we might want to have be Vermont’s motto,” Starling explains. “So it says ‘Stella Quarta Decima.’ It has an eye with rays coming off it."

‘Stella Quarta Decima’ means fourteenth star, symbolizing Vermont as the fourteenth state to join the union. Kubicke added the final word, ‘fulgeat,” to say “Let the Fourteenth Star Shine Bright.” But things took a dark turn when her proposal went viral on Facebook and immigration opponents blasted a “Latin American” motto for an American state.  Kubicke finds such ignorance and bigotry appalling — but motivating.

“I think it showed how important this motto could be to our state because we really don’t teach the classics any more, and I think this motto has brought the classics back into the light. So just keep that torch burning, you know?” she smiles, her face framed by long black pigtails.

"I think it showed how important this motto could be to our state because we really don't teach the classics any more, and I think this motto has brought the classics back into the light." - Angela Kubicke, freshman at St. Johnsbury Academy

The bill’s sponsor, Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, says winning approval for the motto is a high priority for him, even though — or maybe because — lawmakers are grappling with big ticket items and budget deficits.

Sen. Joe Benning, from Caledonia County, shows the Harmon cent that inspired the state motto proposed by Angela Kubicke. Benning has sponsored the bill that would add the Latin motto to an English one: "Freedom in Unity."
Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR

“Since it has been introduced and everything has happened, this has become a mission for me. I am bound and determined now to get this through for this girl and I really think it has become a golden opportunity to showcase the best and the brightest of the kids who are being taught in Vermont,” he says in his Lyndonvile office, fingering the antique coin.

Kubicke has heard complaints that votes like this are trivial, but she thinks a Latin motto is more historically significant than another pending question for lawmakers, whether or not the state dog should be a beagle.

“Cave canem,” she says.

Translation: “Beware the dog.” But Kubicke is not really afraid that her proposal will be dismissed as just another trivial pursuit. She’s confident Vermont lawmakers will make the fourteenth star shine, at least under the neo-classical golden dome.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misspelled the Latin phrase, "cave canem."