May 12, 2018
Fifty years ago, I stood on the threshold where the West Virginia University class of 2018 stands now — poised between college and the opportunities calling from the wider world.
The year was 1968, and the world was changing more rapidly and painfully than at almost any time in our nation’s history:
- The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. had just been murdered, and another assassin’s bullet would soon claim Robert F. Kennedy.
- War raged in Vietnam and appeared each night on our television screens, and young men like me knew we could be drafted at any time.
- Protests rocked many college campuses, including Columbia University, where I would soon start law school.
- The summer ahead would hold feminist protests at the Miss America pageant, riots at the Democratic National Convention, and controversial black power protests by American Olympic athletes.
In this landscape, who would blame me and my fellow graduates for approaching our entry into the “real world” with some trepidation?
In truth, the charged atmosphere around us inspired in many young people an especially acute sense of purpose.
And, in the half-century since then, I have learned that life is really all about finding your purpose and making sure your choices serve that purpose.
Reverend King himself put it this way: “If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”
Our newest graduates’ accomplishments so far show that they can set lofty goals and strive successfully reach them.
That is important because research shows that people with a purpose are happier, healthier and even longer-lived than those who lack one.
Unfortunately, as The New York Times reports, only about one-quarter of Americans reports having a strong sense of purpose and meaning.
For our graduates, however, everything they learned and experienced here at West Virginia University will help to shape an inner drive that evolves as their circumstances change and their horizons widen.
Whether their next step is continuing their education or starting a career, our graduates are launching a journey that can lead them to great heights — and, if they as lucky as me, a journey that will call them home to these beautiful mountains.
E. Gordon Gee
President, West Virginia University