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Greater Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner

 

Prepared Remarks
March 18, 2014

It is a pleasure being here tonight at the magnificent Greenbrier Hotel with all of you — the men and women who make the Greenbrier Valley such a vibrant and eclectic community.

The Greenbrier Resort is a true gem, not only for West Virginia but the entire nation.

You know, in the back of my mind, when I returned to West Virginia University, I was hoping to get a trip to the Greenbrier. Mission accomplished on my part. I also need to find out where the Bunker is because I may need somewhere to hide from time to time.

I am thrilled to see many friends here, both new and old. And I am grateful for the Chamber asking me to be part of this annual dinner.

It is amazing to look around and see all the talented people here tonight — individuals representing banks, the arts community, law firms, the media, the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, the Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, the Greenbrier itself, and so many others.

Better yet, I feel more at home when I see the sea of West Virginia University alumni in the crowd. People like Jeff and Christy Clemons-Rodgers, and Jim and Sharon Rowe.

It is no wonder this place — like the entire state of West Virginia — has always had a home in my heart.

It has been two months since I rejoined West Virginia University, and not even two weeks since officially becoming the permanent president. The calendar does not deceive. It has, indeed, been an exhilarating ride. I have an immense learning curve and feel as if I have been drinking from a fire hose.

The institution I left in 1985 was much different from the one I serve today. One of the advantages of having a 1985 and then a 2014 snapshot is that I have not been part of the evolution of the institution during that time period. I can, therefore, judge it from two very distinct points of view.

West Virginia University was a good university during my first tenure but I can honestly say that from 1985 to 2014, it has transformed itself from a good university into an excellent university.

We have always had a dedicated faculty, hard-working staff, and enthusiastic student body. Yet, when I first left Morgantown, the University struggled to identify how it could best play a role of leadership within the state and on the national stage.

I can now say, unequivocally, that it has discovered its voice, its place, and its reason. And it has done so without abandoning its dedication to the people of West Virginia and West Virginia’s future.

That is one of the reasons why I came back. There was a culmination of factors that led me to stay on full-time. Probably the biggest contributor was the warmth of the people. And as I touched upon, I quickly realized there was no institution I have ever served that had quite the possibility of impact on the life, quality, and opportunities for its people.

Governor Caperton has been a friend of mine for 35 years. We recently spent some time talking and I asked him why he moved back to West Virginia. He said he felt he had one last opportunity to really make a difference, and he wanted to make that difference here. I feel the exact same way.

The changes at West Virginia University in 30 years are highly visible. Enrollment has grown. Academic offerings have proliferated. Research funding and private giving have skyrocketed. The campus has sprouted everything from crime scene houses to a zip line.

It all ties back to that unwavering devotion to our people and the future.

First and foremost, West Virginia University is the quintessential land-grant institution. It is a powerful force in this state through its Extension Service, its focus on youth and 4-H, and its increasing commitment to the vitality of both rural and urban areas.

We have Extension offices in each of the 55 counties, including a fantastic one right here in Greenbrier County.

But, we are not truly the institution we should be unless we believe that each individual in this state is part of our responsibility and, in turn, that we convince the people of this state, in their hearts and minds, that our institution is the most important force for change in their lives. And we should be!

We generate ideas. We train people who teach our students, who build our bridges, who give us healthcare. We teach people who make great music, write novels, study our water, and ensure we utilize energy responsibly.

The value added of a university devoted to the well-being of the state is among the most important callings of a university, particularly one designated by its mission as a land-grant university.

And I see many parallels between what we do as a university and what you do here in your community.

I understand it is the Chamber’s mission to support and promote local businesses, to sustain a positive business environment, and to preserve the quality of life for businesses and residents.

Each month, the Chamber provides power lunches and educational workshops. I am most impressed that the Chamber organizes an interactive Career Day for high school sophomores to engage them into thinking about productive careers.

Your goals mirror ours at West Virginia University. And like the University, your impact is not confined within any measurable boundary. Your impact stretches beyond the county.

You even play a hand in advancing our own mission. Here is one example: A couple of years ago, the Greenbrier Resort gave us an unusual donation that we do not handle every day. It was not cash, stock, or land, but 1,000 badges with a face value of $495 each for the Greenbrier Classic. As we know, the Greenbrier Classic is much more than a golf tournament. It is an entertainment spectacle and a major economic booster for the community and the state of West Virginia. As long as you keep me off the green, it will stay that way.

Anyway, the Greenbrier Classic badges were made available to the general public through outright purchases, drawings, raffles, and auctions with the proceeds benefiting various University programs. The Extension Service used it to fund scholarships in all 55 counties for state and county summer 4-H camps. The Mountaineer Athletic Club, the Sports Management Program, and the Alumni Association used the proceeds for their respective scholarship programs.

It is this type of interplay and collaboration that freshens and vitalizes our well-being. It is a top priority of mine to reestablish those close connections with our communities and residents throughout all 55 counties.

We have come this far by working together for a common good. But I know we can go further.

And working together — a world-class research university and a thriving community like right here in Greenbrier County — we can continue to leverage our tremendous force, energy, vitality, innovation, and creativity as a catalyst for progress.

West Virginia University is a dominant economic driver in the state, returning $40 into the economy for every dollar the state invests. That is why it is essential to build upon our partnerships with local communities.

As I have stated many times since I returned, my biggest goal as president is assuring that 1.8 million West Virginians believe in their hearts and minds that West Virginia University is their University.

West Virginians are counting on us.

But we cannot do this alone. We need the help of all of those who care as much about the future of West Virginia, like the people sitting in this room this evening.

Thank you for welcoming me home to West Virginia. I look forward to working with all of you.

Now, before I go lose all my money in the casino, I will gladly take any questions.