Proud to be a West Virginian | News, Sports, Jobs

Today West Virginia celebrates 159 years as a state and I was recently thinking about an article I wrote a few years ago.

I was born in California, but my father and family have lived in St. Marys since the mid-1970s. I was 1 when my father was honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps and drove my mother and me in West Virginia.

My mother has since passed away, but my father and I remain from West Virginia. When I was younger, I was definitely tempted to leave the state, but I never did. As I got older and added to my skills, my wife and I briefly considered moving when I was interviewed for a think tank position early in the last decade. I didn’t get the job and, looking back, I’m glad I didn’t.

I am a proud West Virginian, a proud native of St. Marys and Pleasants County. I am a proud former resident of Parkersburg and Wood County. And I’m a proud resident of Charleston and Kanawha County. I chose the National Geography Bee in college instead of the Golden Horseshoe, but I’m sure I could easily have become a Knight of the Golden Horseshoe if I had wanted to.

Although I’m a proud West Virginian, I don’t identify as an Appalachian and really don’t understand the recent fascination with the term (or how it should be pronounced, which I believe can be pronounced in both directions). It’s probably because in the part of the state where I grew up, we don’t have anything near the mountains. I grew up along the Ohio River in a town that only exists because someone on a riverboat saw a vision of the Virgin Mary floating above the shore.

I write all of this above as a preface to what you are about to read below. The following is an article I wrote for a website called Vandaleer in 2016, but I find the content to be still current. I know West Virginia can be a tough place to live, especially for people my generation and younger. But I can truly say it’s worth it, and I hope the piece below inspires you to experience your West Virginia pride today on the state’s birthday.

Living in West Virginia, for some young adults, is a struggle. If so, it’s a struggle I’m happy to endure.

A few months ago, a few different entities sent out a request for stories from millennials in West Virginia about why they chose to live in the Mountain State or why they might consider leaving. They were encouraged to use the hashtag #TheStruggleToStay when submitting their stories.

When I first saw this hashtag scrolling on my Twitter timeline, it ate me up. It radiated negativity, which I’m sure was the point. He was designed to get a reaction and get a reaction he did.

I understand. If you’re that age, the prospects for staying in West Virginia for a while after college probably don’t look good. If you look at the top five in-demand jobs, it’s easy to see that West Virginia isn’t the place to be (at least not yet).

For young professionals, it’s easy to look at the job market, the political landscape, the health care, and even the ingrained culture of our state and want to run for the nearest border. These people do this without understanding that by their actions they are actually making the situation worse, not making it better.

According to the WVU College of Business and Economics, West Virginia is expected to lose more than 19,000 people by 2030. That’s more than 1% of the state’s population. On the other hand, West Virginia’s population north of 65 will make up nearly a quarter of the state’s residents over the same period.

With this data in mind, who do you think will shape West Virginia economically, socially, and culturally for years to come? Not its young professionals, but the same people who have always controlled this state and largely maintained it in the dark ages. That only changes if young men and women do something bold: stay.

You see, our ancestors didn’t fight to stay. They struggled to get here in the first place. It was a struggle to create farms here. It was a struggle to cultivate the soil on these hills. It was a struggle to wrest this state from Confederate Virginia, so much so that President Abraham Lincoln had to pace around in his pajamas to think about it. It was a struggle to mine coal, forge steel and mold glass.

You see, West Virginia was born out of struggle. We don’t need to see West Virginia as a burden, but as an opportunity, just like our ancestors did. If you are a young professional in this state, you are quite the pioneer that your great-great-great-grandparents were. You are 21st century climbers.

We need to be more involved. We must take the entrepreneurial risks and plant the seeds of West Virginia’s new economy. We need to be more politically involved, stand for local and national elections, be appointed to local councils and agencies. We need to focus on giving back, joining philanthropic and community service organizations, volunteering our time and skills.

None of this will be easy and none of this will change the state overnight. It will be a long game and, well, a struggle. It starts with us. It starts with our stay.

To make big changes, we are going to have a lot of struggles. I just hope the struggle to stay is no longer one of those struggles.

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