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2017: A Year of Transformation

By Blake N. Humphrey
December 31, 2017

Recently, I had the chance to attend the University of Florida's commencement exercises to celebrate my cousin's graduation. Upon leaving the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, I was thinking about President Ken Fuchs' most profound point in his commencement address; courage

But, before I discuss why this message of having courage stuck with me, I want to take a second to reflect back on the year that was 2017. 

Often times, we nostalgically reflect on the past and think of the "good old days." Yes, the  past is filled with cherished memories, time spent with loved ones, and things that we did that made us happy. The past is also filled with troubles, trying times and things that we did (or happened to us) that mad us sad. 

But for some reason, we always find ourselves pulling out memories from the past, similar to scrolling through an album of photos from one's childhood days. 

Looking toward the past is more important for another reason, though. If well documented, it can show us where we started, where we went, and how we got to where we are. 

Looking back on time can give us a clarion call of where we need to go. 

Despite some flaws, one of the greatest elements of social media is the digital archiving that takes place every time we update our status, post a new picture or like something we see on our timeline. For the most active social media users, looking back on your profile or timeline can in fact reveal the most comprehensive overview of a calendar year. 

So that is exactly what we did for student government. We looked at out our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in order to look back on where we started, where we went, and where we are now. From this reflection process, and for the first time in SGA's recent history, our team published a comprehensive report titled "17 for '17" that touched on some of the highlights from 2017. 

From our statewide day of service to our leadership on relevant campus issues, this rundown gave us a complete picture of what this past year looked like for our organization and for that matter, the student body. 

After completing this report, we were given a very well-documented look at where our organization went over the course of 2017. From our inauguration in April, to visiting counties across the state over the summer, to helping Hundred recover from summer floods, to making major structural reforms and changes to student government, we took a journey back in time. 

The results were indeed positive, but this report also made it very clear that there is still more work that student government can - and will - engage in as we kick off 2018. 

Looking back gave us an even better sense of where we need to go now. 

2017 was also a transformational year for the State of West Virginia. On a number of fronts, we are making major improvements. We are all working diligently on economic development, talent, culture, and creating a state that people want to live in, not one that they have to live in. 

However, as a state we still have obstacles to overcome. With an opioid epidemic ravaging our communities, divisiveness in our national politics and divisions in our society, we must confront these issues head on. Unleashing our state's fullest potential happens when we have something positive and optimistic to believe in. 

In a number of ways, I believe that the student body of West Virginia University can provide hope to communities all across our state. We saw this with our first-ever Service First project completed this past October. With 150 students in 9 counties across the state doing countless projects, our student body got to interact with West Virginia's best asset; our resilient people. 

And this is exactly what the student body of a land grant university ought to do.

As President E. Gordon Gee often says, we are Mr. Lincoln's university. 

In 2017, I contend that we became Mr. Lincoln's student body. 

In 2018, we will not lose sight of this special attribute as the student body of a land grant institution. Moving forward, our student body will continue to lead the way when it comes to reinventing and reinvigorating West Virginia. 

This past year, I have done some profound self-reflection as well. I find much solace in writing my random and scattered thoughts on paper. Transcribing these ideations into words, sentences and paragraphs has proven to be a valuable exercise during my tenure as student body president. There is comfort to be found in knowing that I left no thought hidden in my mind, and figuratively I put it all on the table through writing. 

Over the course of a year, I have undoubtedly evolved in my thinking, outlook and perspective on a wide variety of topics and issues. Assuming the role of chief executive officer of a student governing organization at a multi-campus, flagship, public land grant university makes you conscious of your own personal strengths and weaknesses in leadership.

For example, I have found out that I really rely heavily on my iCalendar to keep me on track with my personal life, projects, academics and university business. However, I have also realized that I am not as good with keeping "to-do lists."

I have also learned the value of observing others who you might admire as a mentor, role model or friend. This does not simply mean that you parrot or mimic whatever your role model does.Instead, you learn to analyze and observe their unique leadership style and personality, and then develop your own way of adding their strengths to your strenghts. 

Finally, I have come to realize how critical it is for me to periodically pause and reflect. This might include taking a hike, playing a match of tennis, or just simply spending time at home with my family. Whatever it might be, I have found that my "grounding time" is essential. 

2018 is right around the corner, and for many, the thought of a new year brings a sense of optimism and resolve to do better and be better. 

I share in this optimism, and cherish the opportunity to dream big and set new goals. 

Everyday, we are given the opportunity to do something great. We might not do something great each and every day, but we are given the opportunity to do something great. 

And each year, we are given the opportunity to think about all of the great things that we would like to accomplish! How wonderful is it that a simple change in a number at the end of a date can give us such encouragement? 

It is time for  us to embrace courage in 2018. 

As Tom Petty sang; 

Well, I won't back down
No, I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down.

Simply put, courage helps propel us onward and upward. 

And having courage means that we do the right things, for the right reasons. If we do just that, then the right things will happen in 2018 and beyond. 

Over the past few years, West Virginia University launched the "Go First" campaign. As Mountaineers, we pride ourselves on going first in our respective fields, industries and communities. 

As I got to thinking about it, we do go first. Whether it is on the field, in the classroom, in the laboratory or at international competitions, our student body is forging a future that everyone can be a part of. 

But we don't simply go first because we say we go first. 

We go first because we have courage.

And in 2018, we must go further in embracing this courage and channel it toward making even more progress, moving the dial even more, and pushing forward together. 

As a society and country, we face uncertainty and challenges. 

But despite that, we must look deep within our own hearts and minds to find the strength and resolve to keep at it. We must have courage. 

As Mountaineers, we will lead the way forward and forge a better future for everyone. 

As West Virginians, our common, shared identity is in fact one of our greatest assets, and it is something we should all cherish. We should not shy away from being proud of who we are as Mountaineers. 

Men's Basketball Coach Bob Huggins said it best recently after a hard-fought win over Oklahoma State: "We're a microcosm of our state. We're just hard-working, grind it out, tough it out, be tougher than everybody else and be successful because we are tougher than everybody else. We're equipped to endure more than everyone else. It's West Virginia.... Everybody else plays for their school, their old alma mater. We play for an entire state." 

So as the student body of West Virginia's university, we will not just go first for ourselves, our school or our alma mater. 

As a student body, we will go first for an entire state. 

By having courage, we will continue to go first. 

In 2018 and beyond, Mountaineers won't back down. 

----- 

Blake N. Humphrey
Student Body President 
West Virginia University