POINT PLEASANT — “The question is this, we all love being West Virginians, but do we have the courage to be West Virginians? If we do, we will thrive, if we don’t, we will have difficulty.”
This was how E. Gordon Gee, president of West Virginia University, closed his keynote speech to those gathered for Thursday’s 71st annual Mason County Chamber of Commerce Spring Dinner.
His speech contained equal parts humor and what he called his “bullish” affection for West Virginia. Gee told those gathered he wanted to take WVU from excellence to eminence.
“I have a real goal for West Virginia, I want us to build a fence around the state to keep all our talent here, we need to keep our young people here, we’re going to build a fence around West Virginia and Ohio’s going to pay for it,” he joked.
Getting more serious, he explained: “The reason I say that is, the world is really about talent now, if we’re going to thrive in this state, we’re going to have to really focus on the talent issue.”
Gee said the state had exported oil, gas and coal but “the most important export we’ve had, is talent.”
He explained the state had many people who have gone on to do “great things” and the question remains, what would’ve happened if they had stayed here, rather than move on?
Gee then told the story about arriving at WVU during his latest tenure and deciding to concentrate on building the school’s medical center. In order to do that, WVU identified West Virginians who’d gone on to do those “great things” and recruited them home. Gee said when this mission began, out of 126 medical centers in the country, WVU’s was raked 79th, two years ago it was ranked 36th, then 18th and now the latest ranking has it 6th, behind the Mayo Clinic.
“We have very talented people with great hearts and great minds and we need to keep them here,” he said.
Gee also talked about his own love of the state, saying he gets “frustrated” when he hears others say “isn’t it wonderful” that people in West Virginia are so close to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago, New York. He said it should be the other way around, that aren’t those people in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and New York so lucky to be near West Virginia.
“They can come and see God’s country and have an opportunity to see what real people do in real ways, our duty is that and our people are that.”
He talked about visiting the Minister of Education in China where he was asked: “How do you teach creativity?”
“Creation takes place in this country,” he said. “We believe in creativity and the essence of creativity and opportunity, that is still who we are.”
More on the chamber dinner and those receiving special recognition and awards in Saturday’s Point Pleasant Register.