Last Word



McKinley Architects & Engineers

The Thrasher Group

Williamson Shriver Architects

September 30, 2011 - Volume 31 Issue 22

Last Word

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion. Thomas Jefferson

By Hoppy Kercheval

For those of us who went to West Virginia University, or feel any sort of kinship with the University, these are agonizing times. It’s painful to hear that one of the reasons WVU may not be accepted into a new athletic conference is because the school is an academic lightweight.

True, WVU is vulnerable on this front. U.S. News and World Report ranks WVU 164th among the country’s public and private institutions. WVU does not belong to the prestigious American Association of Universities, whose members are the top research universities in the United States and Canada.

Okay, so WVU is not Harvard. Shoot, according to the rankings, WVU is not even Maryland or Virginia Tech or Iowa State. 

I didn’t know any of that when I arrived on campus in 1974 to study journalism. I was just a kid from the country—Charles Town—who was anxious for the opportunity to get a college degree and experience life out from under the protective wings of my parents.

No one in my circle of friends in the journalism school or at the Daily Athenaeum, the student newspaper, was wealthy, well-connected or particularly scholarly. We knew that our education at WVU was going to prepare us for what came next, but the rest would be up to us.

We made the most of the opportunity. 

One of my friends went to work at the Orange County Register and won a Pulitzer Prize. Another became the publisher of the Hagerstown Herald newspaper. Another created a multi-million dollar public relations company. Another operated a successful jewelry store and just recently returned to school to get a law degree. Another is the news director of a television station in Phoenix. Another became a lawyer and served as a family lawmaster in West Virginia. Another became a university president.

Granted, this is my own limited anecdotal evidence, but I suspect tens of thousands of my fellow graduates have similar stories. Taken collectively, these stories make up what I believe is the core strength of West Virginia University.

The school provides an affordable option, particularly for state residents, to attend a major university with myriad academic and social opportunities. That’s a noble and worthwhile mission that does not show up in the rankings.

West Virginia University’s open admissions policy means the University extends its arms and says to students, particularly those from West Virginia, that even if they don’t have the best grades or the means, they are welcome. Often, West Virginia students who go to the University are the first in their family to go to college.

This makes WVU a great academic melting pot where the students range from the best and the brightest to the carefree and indifferent. And, over the course of four or five years, that all gets sorted out. 

Some will wash out during the first semester. A few will party too much and skate by.  But most will find a balance and make something of themselves, perhaps something they didn’t know was possible when they arrived on campus.
Their lives will have been altered and made richer by their University experience.
The country’s academics can rank the University where they will, and the slings and arrows will follow, but I know what WVU meant to me and to my classmates. 

Hoppy Kercheval is host of “Talkline” on the MetroNews Radio Network. Used by permission of MetroNews. This commentary was published September 21, 2011.