Standing at the corner of University and Edwards, my chosen spot each year, the LibertyFest parade rolls by like a Rockwell painting come to life. The marching bands from all three high schools are there with the flag corps and as the Santa Fe band passes my corner they break into “Oklahoma!” I won’t have any children at Santa Fe — we live in Bulldog country — but I feel proud of them nonetheless, just as I have when the bands from North and Memorial marched by with Sousa melodies filling the air from Old North to Chambers Library.

This year’s grand marshall, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Rear Adm. Greg Slavonic, a UCO and OSU alum, passed by with a wave and a greeting. That got me thinking about our Fourth of July parade and the unlikely, perfectly predictable microcosm it has become. Slavonic, a kid from the land of manmade lakes who grew up to be the assistant secretary of the Navy, made the ideal figurehead.

This year’s theme was Snapshots of Freedom and if ever a parade stayed true to a theme it was this one.

The soldiers were there in uniform, reminding us there’s no freedom if we don’t defend it. Edmond police were there too, reminding us that we enjoy a lot of personal freedom thanks to them. The U.S. Marshals Service was there, a group that plays an important, if less visible part. The Civil Air Patrol marched in uniform, the civilian auxiliary to the U.S. Air Force.

Snapshots of freedom, to be sure. But the parade turned the lens for some other angles, too.

The Last Frontier Council enters the parade each year with scouts of all varieties carrying a massive American flag; this year there are Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, and there are girls who are scouts too. Along behind them march the Girl Scouts and conservative rival groups Trail Life USA and American Heritage Girls. No one was there to protest against the Boy Scouts’ newfound inclusiveness of the past six years, and no one waved rainbow flags or threw glitter at the Trail Life contingent.

There it was, all contained in an hour-long march around downtown Edmond: all of us getting along despite, maybe even because of, our differences.

I most admired the UCO Internationals, students from other countries studying at Central who opted to celebrate our nation’s birth with us. UCO has about 1,800 foreign students, more than one-tenth of its enrollment. They come from 73 countries. Behind a red, white and blue banner that said “Happy Birthday America” and “We Love Oklahoma’s Spirit!” students carried the flags of Japan, Great Britain, Iraq, Malaysia, Nigeria, France and Kurdistan. Some wore a hijab. One carried an American flag, another the Oklahoma state flag. All chanted with smiles and enthusiasm. 

“Happy Birthday, America!” they repeated over and over, with smiles and waves less practiced, more genuine than most of the pageant winners in tiaras mustered.

“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness,” Erma Bombeck wrote. “You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”

And when a single, hour-long event lets you hear fellow Oklahomans Toby Keith singing that he’s proud to be an American, where at least he knows he’s free and Woody Guthrie reminding you that this land is your land, you can figure that you’ve gotten it all just right.