The school crest is the readily identified symbol of Oak Park and River Forest High School. However, the history behind Ta Garista, the phrase that appears on the crest, is much less known—and has led to its meaning being greatly misunderstood.
In 1900, Principal John Hanna proposed a motto for the school which would encompass his belief that students should excel academically as well as in co-curricular activities. The motto is- Ta Garista oudein oumen enmenina- roughly translated as -Nothing assuredly but what is the best. The motto was rooted in the Greek and Latin curriculum of the school and was meant as a challenge for students, faculty and staff. He hoped to inspire the school community in the quest, the struggle and the perseverance to give their all, in every endeavor, be it in the classroom, lab, on stage, or athletic field. The motto was adopted by a school-wide vote.
It was a design decision made a few years later that ended up obscuring the original intent of the motto. In 1908, Mr. Lee Watson, a teacher in the art and manual training department, designed the school crest with the trees, oak leaves, and river representing our communities. The entire motto would not fit on the new crest, so he included just Ta Garista, to represent the motto’s main idea of seeking “The Best.” Over the years, many have interpreted this shortened version of the motto to be a boastful statement about all things OPRF, rather than the aspirational goal it was meant to be.
A new school to house the growing enrollment and designed to give life to the motto was opened in 1907 at the corner of Scoville Ave and Ontario Street. The new school with traditional classrooms as well as innovative facilities such as a library and science labs would grow quickly in the first two decades of the 1900’s. Soon it would also include the Classics Room, the English Club Room, a band room, an auditorium, manual training rooms and a gymnasium. In 1913 the enrollment topped 1000.
The school has been a leader in many ways: adoption of the AP curriculum, early instruction in driver training, computer based instruction, world languages, African American studies, student television, equity and inclusion. Alumni are noted authors, performers, humanitarians, scientists, business leaders, educators, state champions and Olympic athletes. Each of these individuals has fulfilled the belief expressed by Mr. Hanna in the motto.
At the high school centennial in 1973, the motto was defined as “the willing and productive struggle against the ordinary and the limiting, in a broad spectrum of endeavors.” In the fifty years since the centennial, the high school has continued to evolve and change, reflecting the communities of Oak Park and River Forest. The challenge, however, for the entire school community remains as the motto proclaims- Nothing assuredly but what is the best.