The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 27, 2014

Higher education

— Even a bitter wind flowing with abandon through the lovely campus of Concord University on Tuesday couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm at the school’s Founders Day celebration.

The annual ceremony recognizes the university’s top staff members for the year, and its top faculty members, and its best and brightest students.

Concord was founded in 1872 by veterans of the Civil War, both Union and Confederate, hence the name which translates to harmony and fellowship.

Over the years, the college adapted, becoming a teachers college, and then a university. As the needs and goals of its students changed, the school evolved right alongside.

Today, Concord has nearly 3,000 people enrolled and attending classes in Athens and in Beckley at the Erma C. Byrd Higher Education Center.

Dr. Kendra Boggess, interim president of the university, noted that over the years Concord “has impacted lives of thousands,” and continues to do so.

Boggess has served in her position since November as the search for a new president for the university continues.

By all accounts, and from our own observations, she has performed this transitional role admirably. Much like Concord has performed its changing institutional role over the years, reminding us that even in a science-heavy, high-tech digital world, there is still a role for liberal arts education.

The businesses that have hired Concord grads over the years are certainly aware of the quality of that education.

The ceremony at Concord’s Alexander Fine Arts Center also served to remind us just how important higher education is in southern West Virginia.

We don’t often take the time to step back and look at how blessed we are with our neighbors and friends who attend, teach and work at Concord, UC-Beckley, West Virginia Tech, Bluefield State College, New River Community and Technical College and Valley College.

Each of these institutions has created a unique place for itself and its students, and they have won a place in our lives and, in some cases, even our hearts.

Make no mistake, these institutions enrich more than just their students. They also enhance our lives and communities socially and culturally, even if we rarely put a foot down on a campus sidewalk these days.

Higher education has always been deeply valued in southern West Virginia.

Yet it has never been as crucial as it is today.

These universities and colleges, and the students who attend them, will provide the energy, the creativity and the knowledge on our march to diversify our economy.

These schools are providing our young people with the tools to help carve out a new age in southern West Virginia.

It won’t be easy, and at times the rate of progress toward our goals may become frustrating.

But like the bricks that make up that beautiful, old Concord campus, our steps to the future will be laid one at a time: Student by student by student.