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Gee on:Resilience

As our vital effort at social distancing continues, you may be making quite a dent in your Netflix watch list. Before you fire up “Tiger King” or “Love is Blind” for a re-watch, I have a suggestion: The Oscar-nominated short film “Heroin(e).” West Virginia University alumna Elaine McMillion Sheldon directed this glimpse into our state’s opioid problem, but the University connection is not the reason for my recommendation.

This film is a timely reminder of the uniquely resilient Mountaineer character—honed by adversity and inspired by compassion for our neighbors.

As we navigate COVID-19’s uncharted challenges, we cannot forget the hardships that our predecessors have overcome—from wars, to economic depressions, to national tragedies.

As a land-grant university, our institution itself grew from the darkest period in our nation’s history. As the Civil War raged, President Abraham Lincoln recognized that the story of human progress is inextricably bound to education. And, so, he shined a light in the darkness by opening the American dream to more people than ever before.

Since then, West Virginia University and other land-grants have had one overarching purpose: Producing hope.

In seemingly hopeless times, hope arms us against despair and builds the courage to overcome obstacles. Recent research shows that hopeful people are happier, less lonely and more effective at reaching their goals than their gloomier peers. Students who rate “high hope” on psychological tests earn better grades than their classmates. Hopeful athletes are more competitive. Hopeful professionals are more productive, more engaged and more creative.

Hopeful people release more endorphins and have a greater tolerance for pain. They tend to choose a more nutritious diet and, according to a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health, are less prone to hypertension, diabetes and respiratory infections.

Moreover, hope even seems to strengthen the immune system, promoting more rapid recovery from illnesses or injuries.

Our current situation may isolate us but let us keep looking for ways to express our hopeful and helpful Mountaineer spirit—a spirit that accompanies us wherever we go and inspires us through every challenge.