Honesty is the best policy. Therefore, I will admit that making an annual pilgrimage to Florida is preferable in January rather than July! Having recently returned from several days traversing the state from coast to coast and points in-between, I joined members of our Institutional Advancement team, along with our athletic director, as we visited with alumni and friends. The respite from the West Virginia winter was welcome, but the relationships and conversations with those who love Davis & Elkins College were even better.
We met with well over 100 alumni and friends, both in groups and in numerous individual visits. There were many highlights, but there were also recurring themes. Alumni spanning the decades of the 1950s to the ’90s shared memories, reflections and gratitude. Friends of the College, particularly snowbirds from Elkins, consistently shared the invaluable contribution D&E makes to the quality of life in the Elkins community.
From alumni we heard a lot about people, particularly faculty and staff of years past who invested themselves in the lives of young students. Along with some funny stories, these alumni inevitably talked of the gift given to them by learned faculty and caring staff who nurtured and molded young and impressionable lives.
We also heard numerous alumni comment on the exceptional quality of the academics they received. Day after day as we traveled, I heard stories about a particular D&E graduate moving on to graduate school and being amazed that they were generally much better prepared than many of their new graduate classmates coming from high profile academic institutions.
Most had a few stories of their comical or mischievous exploits during those formative years. The stories, told with a laugh and a smile, ended with the gentle reprimand and direction of a professor, coach or house/dorm mother back to the “straight and narrow.” They were the necessary learning experiences that led to productive and meaningful lives. These stories often ended with some form of either, “My D&E years were some of the best years of my life” or “Attending D&E was the best decision I ever made.”
As alumni reflected on the decades since their days on the hallowed grounds of the Davis & Elkins campus, they often remarked about the financial struggles of attending College and the gratitude for the scholarship aid they received. Many would go on to share that they are now giving their financial gifts back to their alma mater to provide the same opportunity for the students of today and tomorrow. For those who have been blessed, they now have the opportunity to become a blessing.
During one of our final alumni events of the tour, following my opportunity to share with the group an update on the College and a request for their continuing monetary support, an alumnus from the 1960s approached me. His simple, yet profound, words and gratitude have stuck in my head. He simply said, “You have my support. D&E changed my life and enabled my career success. I am grateful to give back.”
Our trek across Florida warmed my bones and my heart. It reminded me once again of the words alumnus Hank Steinbrecher told me at my inauguration. He said, “Davis & Elkins College is a blessed place.” Like all those Florida alumni and friends, I am grateful for these hallowed grounds.
The journey continues….