Just before the 20th century, Oklahoma received a significant Christmas gift.
And for those who love Oklahoma State University, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.
In December 1890, the Oklahoma territorial legislature set forth a plan that would establish three universities in the territory. These universities would eventually become the University of Oklahoma, the University of Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.
For Oklahoma State, the timing was particularly special. The university was founded on Christmas in 1890. Annually, as the campus comes to life for the holidays with decorations and tree lightings and general cheer, the university finds dual reasons to celebrate: Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, OSU.
David Peters, an assistant professor and campus history expert at OSU, said establishing what was then Oklahoma A&M on Christmas was fitting because the school brought Oklahoma citizens “gifts” in the forms of education and agricultural prosperity.
OSU's initial mission, which was agreed upon in the legislation signing, was to become the state’s agriculture and mechanical college, involving the establishment of an agriculture research center.
“Before you had land grant colleges and stuff, private schools were just too expensive, and most people didn’t have a chance to go to college,” Peters said. “With the land grant system now, almost everyone has an opportunity to go to college."
Peters explained how allowing more people to attend college was not only an educational opportunity, but also a gift to citizens of our state.
“Initially, most of our territorial citizens are living on small farms, and so the research activities that occurred at the agriculture experiment station that was located with the college here had a tremendous impact on peoples’ daily lives," Peter said."What they can grow is what they’re gonna eat, and so the agricultural research that we provided really provided a foundation for our agricultural research here in the state.”
The agricultural research center has grown since its conception in 1890, as its research accounts for $50 million annually and directly supports Oklahoma’s agricultural industry, according to the Oklahoma Agricultural Experimentation Station website.
The school has grown since then. OSU has an undergraduate enrollment of 20,574, is ranked 95th in US News’ best public universities in the United States list and has more than 200,000 living alumni worldwide.
Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt, a 1996 OSU alumnus, said the university has been a gift to him in many ways.
“I graduated from Norman High School and went to Stillwater at 18 years old, and it’s really where I grew up and kind of found myself and made lifelong friends, learned to work hard, got an accounting degree," Stitt said. "And so (I) just love Stillwater, it’s just a special place. Oklahoma State is such a fantastic university. Can’t imagine going anywhere else for my college experience.”
Stitt praised George W. Steele, Oklahoma’s territorial governor who established the universities in 1890, for his vision and determination.
“What vision that he had,” Stitt said. “I always tell people, things don’t just happen. There’s individuals that have visions and have the persistence and determination to make it happen that create what we’ve been able to experience and benefit from today. We recognize that we stand on the shoulders of guys like that, and that’s why I tell my staff all the time: Let’s be bold leaders, let’s be visionaries, let’s think about what Oklahoma needs to look like 50 years from now to make the changes and to continue to make Oklahoma a top 10 state.”