Laguna Middle School student Tori Smith can’t help but smile when she tells the tale of how she helped a state get its nickname. That story culminated in an impromptu trip to Arizona where she met Gov. Jan Brewer.
Smith, 13, will forever be entwined in Arizona’s history. Because of her, the state’s unofficial nickname, “The Grand Canyon State,” became official.
On Feb. 14, the 99-year anniversary of Arizona’s statehood, a bill was signed making the nickname legitimate. Smith was there to watch Gov. Brewer sign the bill — she even has a souvenir copper pen to prove it.
Until that day, the nickname printed on everything from license plates to T-shirts could have been claimed by any neighboring state.
Smith’s impact was unintentional. It all started with a state report she had to write when she was a fifth-grader at Old Mission School. She needed to know the state’s official nickname and tenaciously pursued the quest, only to find after talking with Arizona State Historian Marshall Trimble that the state had never formally adopted the nickname.
A bill was immediately crafted by then Arizona Rep. Sam Crump to make the nickname official, but the state’s budget crisis slowed the legislation. The bill then went through two revisions and was reintroduced by two more representatives. Finally, this week, freshman Rep. Kate Brophy-McGee, R-Phoenix, got it passed into law.
Tori and her mom, Patty Smith, have been casually following the bill’s progression by e-mail with Trimble over the years. On Thursday, Trimble let them know that it was going to happen. Mother and daughter made quick travel arrangements and were there by Sunday.
While there, Smith, now in seventh grade, was featured on a local news station, ate lunch with two state house representatives and the state historian and met Arizona Assembly speaker Kirk Adams. The trip culminated in a meeting with Gov. Brewer. Smith watched as Brewer signed the bill into law.
For Smith, the lesson, which was two years in the making, is simple: “One person can make a difference and small inquiries can change bigger things,” she said.
And her mom couldn’t be prouder.
“I am just stoked,” said Patty Smith. “She went from meeting the letter of an assignment to meeting the governor of a state.”