Happy 4th of July! This is one of my favorite holidays. I’m not sure how it became a favorite as a kid – perhaps gathering with family at the lake, eating watermelon, homemade ice cream and shooting fireworks. Wonderful memories, those are. As an adult, I think it’s more the patriotism that swells in my heart among flags, fireworks and the National Anthem. While I am always proud to be an American, that pride ramps up as we join together from coast to coast to celebrate our nation’s beginnings.

History.com takes us back 241 years, to the day we were born. “In June 1776, representatives of the 13 colonies then fighting in the revolutionary struggle weighed a resolution that would declare their independence from Great Britain. On July 2nd, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, and two days later its delegates adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson. From 1776 until the present day, July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence.”

America is the greatest democratic republic experiment in the history of the world, founded on one overlying dream: independence. I won’t sugarcoat our birth. It was painful. The trek across the great pond itself was life-threatening. Then arriving on America’s shore, while an accomplishment, was merely the first round in what would prove to be a long, arduous commitment. Oppression followed the brave pioneers, but the fledgling colonies bound together, holding collectively to the independence dream. They fought. Hard. Lots of blood, death and loss were invested to arrive at that first 4th of July.

How grateful I am that they never gave up, for compromise and concession would certainly have been easier. Instead, our forefathers united and did not stop until oppression sailed back across the sea, and America was born. Independence is valuable, and it has a price. It was not easily won then, and it is not easily won today.

In celebration of their 125th anniversary last year, UNT published a book with news stories, clippings and photographs from the University Archive. The book chronicles UNT’s history from its beginning above a hardware store on the Denton square (now JT Clothiers) to its present day sprawl as Texas’ 4th largest university. The name of the book? Independent, Original and Progressive.

As noted in the book, in his speech at the opening of UNT (then Texas Normal College and Teacher Training Institute), founder and president Joshua C. Chilton was the first to describe UNT and Denton as "independent, original and progressive." That was in 1890.

Like America’s, Denton’s story is one of fierce independence. Have you taken note of our city’s brand today in 2017? Original Independent Denton. That is not coincidence! Original and independent are inherent to our character.

Not without its own bumps and bruises along the way, the Discover Denton Welcome Center’s (DDWC) official birthday is also on the 4th of July. In many ways, the process of renovating our building at 111 W. Hickory on the square and preparing to open feels like eons ago. On the other hand, our grand opening last year on the 4th seems like yesterday, these past 12 months of learning-while-we-go like a speeding blur.

Now 65,000 visitors later, our welcome center is one that cities across Texas are trying to mimic. There’s not another like ours anywhere. Our own, Internet-based radio station DentonRadio.com (a feat on its own merit), the Denton store, live entertainment and celebration showcases ensure a Denton welcome far beyond being a place to collect a few brochures.

The Discover Denton Welcome Center's ribbon cutting in July 2016. (Photo courtesy of the Denton Chamber of Commerce)

Since our grand opening birthday is on the 4th, we’ll celebrate big in tandem with the nation every year. We’ll open early Tuesday morning, at 8:30 a.m. for Denton’s Yankee-Doodle Parade-goers gathering for the 9 a.m. downtown start. While supplies last, the DDWC will give out free American flags to wave at the parade – favors to kick off our star-spangled birthday.

Then, we’ll party long after the parade with music, a face painter, caricature artist, birthday cookies and various give-aways ‘til closing time at 9 p.m. By then, most everybody in town will be at or within sight of Apogee Stadium for the giant Kiwanis fireworks show.

It’s the DDWC’s birthday, and it’s important that we are here. Remember how independence comes with a price? A consequence of being an original, independent place is that it’s not always a cinch to figure out. Even locals discover aspects of Denton they didn’t know. That’s what the DDWC is all about.

We have many reasons to celebrate in our city and our nation, achieving greatness at great costs at both levels. Originality, independence and freedom are glorious things indeed.

Happy birthday, America, and happy birthday to the DDWC.