Thursday was a big day for southern West Virginia high school students, as Shawn and Angela Ball, of L&S Toyota in Beckley, donated $50,000 to go toward high schools in six counties.
Ball and representatives from the West Virginia University school system visited with local high school principals, counselors and students during events on WVU Tech's campus and Woodrow Wilson High School. Ball not only donated $25,000 to be dispersed among high schools in Raleigh, Nicholas, Summers, Fayette, Wyoming and Monroe counties to support educational programming at each school, he also donated an additional $25,000 to go toward Christmas gifts for students at the schools.
"I grew up in a small town in Boone County with very little opportunity, where the only thing to really do is be a coal miner," Ball told a group of seniors at Woodrow Wilson High School. "Now, I own three car dealerships. Education is so important, and no one is going to make you do it. You have to make the decision for yourself."
Ball stressed the importance of continuing one's education after high school, and said although he never thought college was for him, he toughed it out and made the decision to attend.
"I woke up one day and asked myself, 'Where am I going to go if I don't do this?,' so I did it. I don't want anyone to tell me they can't do this; you have so many resources in your area to support you."
The Ball family also donated $50,000 Thursday to WVU Tech, to go toward the university's nursing and engineering scholarship funds they established in 2015. He told students 100 percent of WVU Tech graduates who graduate with an engineering or nursing degree find a job after completing their degree.
"Education is so important, and that's why I continue to do this," he said.
Both WVU president Gordon Gee and WVU Tech campus president Carolyn Long also spoke to students on the importance of continuing their education, and the available resources in their area.
Gee, as always, even spoke with students of his bow tie collection.
"I want everyone in this room to continue an education," he told the group of seniors sitting in a filled cafeteria. "The future of this state is depending on educated individuals."
Gee also encouraged the students to stay in West Virginia after graduating from high school and college.
"We will need people like you in West Virginia. People that come from schools in this state achieve great things," he said.
Long invited students to visit the WVU Tech campus in Beckley to show them around and tell them what programs the university offers. She said although she believes the WVU school system has something to offer everyone, it's not attending WVU that will make the difference, it's attending any school to continue an education.
"I don't want anyone in this room to think they can't go to college," Long told the students. "Financially, it's tough, but even if you are an average student and you don't make the best of grades, and think you don't have the money to go, please come visit us."
Long said although they can't make a promise to find a way, they will move rock to look through every way possible, financially, to get students into college.
"We want to make sure you all have the education you need."
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