Long ago and far away on that fabled road to Damascus, Mississippi, about which most of you have heard me speak with joyful reverie, my Papaw Carlton said these words to me: “Son, you are going to be the President one day, and when you are, remember what I taught you. You are good enough to do anything, and there is not anything in the world you will ever be too good to do.”
Well, Papaw, here we are again, and I am deeply humbled that my life seems to have come full circle in a place similar in so many ways to where it started. Today I transitioned from the role of interim campus president of WVU Potomac State College to the role of campus president and a tenured member of our wonderful faculty. I pledge that I will be a faithful partner to all of you in serving the needs of our students and putting them first in everything we do, in meeting and exceeding the high expectations of community service that our service area rightly sets for us, in nurturing a workplace climate that feels as familial and warm as it feels professional and equitable, and in telling our stories across town, across the state, across the nation, and around the world.
My grandfather could not read or write because he quit school in the first grade to feed his family, literally and figuratively, so that I might have a moment such as this one. He poured all of his dreams for his family and for a better world into me, the first person in his family to have the honor and the responsibility of becoming educated. Education was sacred to him, and I understand precisely how large a word that is. So did he. I thank him and the rest of my family, even the ones who died before I was born, for making the sacrifices which created my path forward. Truly, as Jewel’s wonderful lyric says, “I am the accumulation of the dreams of generations.”
Of course, Papaw Carlton had in mind that I would be President of the United States which seems a bit of a stretch, but it shows the capacity to imagine a future of worldly service even by a man who seldom ventured beyond the county line of the county in which he was born. That same imagination lives on in his grandson who, truly, would rather serve as the campus president at this wonderful institution than on any other world stage.
I also thank this entire community for the warm welcome that David and I have felt from the moment we first drove onto campus. It felt right from my first steps and my first words with this community, and it feels even more right today. I thank President Gee, Provost Reed, Vice Provost Kreider, and the entire Catamount and Mountaineer family who have lifted us up and claimed us as part of you. I must also thank my friends at WVU Parkersburg who gave me my first chance to serve as a college president and prepared me well for what will hopefully be a long and productive season here with you.
We are where we want to be, when we want to be here, and with the people we want to serve alongside. The wonderful coalescence of those elements is not lost on me. I told a visitor today that sometimes the right people come together at the wrong time, sometimes the wrong people come together at the right time, and occasionally the right people come together at the right time. When the latter occurs, magic can happen, and I don’t mean magic left to chance. I mean the kind that a community is brave enough to dream, creative enough to undertake, and hard-working enough to see through to its completion.
Sometimes as campus president, I will get it right. Sometimes I will get it wrong. When the latter happens, I will not be too proud to admit it and to try again. I will accept and nurture that same kind of humanity in all of you. All day, every day, I will put your interests ahead of my own with the needs of this wonderful college, positioned within a strong and supportive university system, as the north star for everything I do at the only place in the world where we can be Catamounts and Mountaineers at the same time.Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.
Chris Gilmer, Ph.D.