WHEELING, W.Va. — West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee is never one to mince words, and Thursday night in Wheeling he asserted that the greatest generation “is the one we are raising right now.”
Before a crowd attending the annual Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce dinner held at Wheeling Park’s White Palace, Gee entertained and captivated his audience with funny stories of mistaken identity and the promise to fulfill the expectations and dreams of West Virginians seeking a higher education. He pointed to WVU as an economic engine for the state, and said many of today’s inventions were born out of universities and colleges.
“A couple of scientists at WVU and Ohio State figured out horizontal drilling to give us economic efficiency so we don’t have to rely on the Middle East,” Gee said.
Gee, who made a point to visit all 55 counties in West Virginia recently, said he is amazed that no matter where he travels in the country or world, he finds WVU graduates who have only good things to say about their home state and university.
“No matter where where I go, I run into WVU graduates. And the one thing they ask is ‘find me a job in West Virginia,'” Gee said. “There is a great love between the people and the university.
“We have a great responsibility to fulfill dreams and expectations. We should build a fence around West Virginia and keep our talent here. We need to educate well K through 12. Then we could open the gate and let some people in. We need talent.”
Gee said while traveling in China, he met with that country’s education leader who oversees the schooling in the world’s most-populous country. The Chinese leader asked Gee “How do Americans teach creativity?” Gee said it was a state secret.
“We’re mongrels with a habit of the heart and a desire to rise,” Gee said.
He said despite a fragile world in 2001, today’s generation represents a transformation from “a hardware to thoughtware society.”
“I believe West Virginia is rising,” he said. “We’ve had challenges, opportunities squandered and we dealt with it. I have one question: Do we have the courage and will to be Americans?”
On a lighter note, Gee recounted how, when walking across campus a few days into the school year, several freshmen obviously recognized him. As they walked past Gee, one of the students said, “Isn’t that Orville Redenbacher?”
Then during a trip to Chicago, a woman approached him in the airport and asked for his autograph. Upon giving her his signature, the woman looked at it and asked, “Who … is Gordon Gee? I thought you were Lou Holtz.”
Also during the event, Chamber President Erikka Storch presented the Kathy Fortunato Community Service Award to Lori Jones, executive director of the Wheeling YWCA. The award was established by the chamber in Fortunato’s honor following her death in 2006. Fortunato served the YWCA as a volunteer and was past president of the YWCA board.
In accepting her award, Jones thanked her staff and praised the people of the community who support the Y, including the recent “Over the Edge” fundraiser in which participants raised $1,000 each to rappel over the side of the Stone Center.