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A message for the Class of 2019: Take risks and realize your full potential

May 9, 2019

In February, a reporter covering border issues in Arizona attracted the attention of a law enforcement officer, who asked for her ID. When she began filming their encounter, he told her that posting the video would be illegal.

This reporter, however, knew her First Amendment rights, and after publishing her story, she received an apology from local officials.

None of this would be terribly unusual in today’s contentious media and political environment — except that the reporter was a 12-year-old girl operating from a bicycle instead of a news van.

Far from a novice journalist, Hilde Kate Lysiak has been writing and editing her own publication, the Orange Street News, for four years.

When people criticized her early on for her unconventional pursuits, she said: “I don't think people should be able to decide for me who I should be and what I should be doing. I never began my newspaper so that people would think I was cute. I started the Orange Street News to give people the information they need to know.”

This year, Hilde is the speaker at our Reed College of Media Commencement — and perhaps the youngest speaker ever at any university commencement.

As I prepared to address you, Hilde’s story spoke to me — and not only because I relate to the struggle to be respected for my work rather than my cuteness.

Hilde exemplifies the quality that will be so important to your future success: The willingness to take risks.

Research has shown a link between personal satisfaction and the willingness to risk unfamiliar situations and unpredictable endeavors.

But too many people allow themselves to drift into complacency.

Perhaps that is because, as cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman has shown, we weigh potential losses much more heavily than potential gains when we evaluate risks.

Loss aversion may protect us from some bad decisions, but it can also hold us back from realizing our full potential.

I believe that the greatest risk all of you will face is giving in to your fear of taking risks.

Generations of West Virginia University graduates have dared to risk failure. And, by doing so, they have nurtured ideas that made our world better.

The Class of 2019 education is well prepared to take similar chances and share their own expertise with others — and I know their Mountaineer daring will guide them to their highest purpose.

Signature of E. Gordon Gee

E. Gordon Gee
President, West Virginia University

Gee Mail: The Journey Continues for the WVU Class of 2019