The oldest mountain range on earth – Standing tall and proud for over 360 million years, Comprising the Eastern Continental divide, and home to some of the most beautiful and diverse terrain found on earth.
Misty mornings are common when the fog rises off the rivers and streams nestled in the mountain valleys, then crows the hills – hills which seem to reach into the heavens.
Deep in the hills and valleys of West Virginia run streams – Carrying water from the springs below the surface of the earth – pure running water filtered through the mountains and emerging cold, crisp, and fresh to the taste.
The New River – one of the worlds oldest – has carved its path through the mountain state for what is believed to be nearly 360 million years.
Deep below the earth, lies some of the most expansive reserves of coal found on earth. Coal was first discovered in what is now Boone County, the gateway to the southern coalfields.
West Virginia is coal, coal has been a part of our heritage, And our lives, providing economic prosperity with its peak, and desperate hard times with its certain fall – further distressing a state that has been so deeply entrenched in poverty for generations that it has become a way of life for far too many.
The Flora and Fauna are some of the most diverse to be found in the county, like Cranberry Glades, where the only botanic tundra specimens can be found south of the Canadian Rockies. The highest point in the state is Spruce Knob – which rises 4,863 feet. The soil and climate of West Virginia is ideal for the growth of very dense hardwood forests – nearly all of which were clear cut and used to build this nation at the rise of the industrial revolution.
Among these hills great leaders have emerged, social and political change has been ignited by people passionate about their rights – and the rights of others.
The hands of this state’s proud ancestors have played a critical role in the freedom of our nation – and in turn the whole world over.
We are a proud people, because we love our land – and have a deeply emotional sense of place, especially the place we call home. Among the hills and valleys of West Virginia our childhood echoes through the valleys, no matter our age, and our lives continue to take shape.
As a people we stand for what is right – whether it is the most popular choice or not. We believe in the power of hard work, honesty, and we strive to live in sound judgment.
As a whole – West Virginia has sacrificed more than any other state in times of war – Over 400,000 West Virginians have served their country since 1941 and countless more in prior wars and conflicts. Many gave their lives and were returned to their families for burial in their home soil – while many lie in foreign soil – and sadly many were never found or given proper burial.
This week we will honor all those who served – and will have only a glimpse into the painful sacrifices that have been made for our freedom – and shall carry their memories home with us – etched forever into our collective memory.
This state is our home. From the winding roads that take us to family cemeteries planted on mountainsides, to the great interstate highways that run the ridgelines offering breathtaking views of gently rolling hills and the deep plunging valleys of this beautiful state.
West Virginia, born in the midst of the civil war, by people who believed in the ultimate right to freedom from slavery. West Virginians stood to acknowledge that no human being is to ever be owned by another. Injustice to one – is injustice to all.
In the words of Abraham Lincoln, in his opinion to congress pertaining to the admission of West Virginia into the union said – “We can scarcely dispense with the aid of West Virginia in the struggle of this civil war; much less can we afford to have her against us, in congress and in the field.
Her brave and good men regard her admissions into the union as a matter of life and death. They have been so true to the Union under very severe trials. We have so acted to justify their hopes; and we cannot fully retain their confidence, and cooperation, if we seem to break faith with them. In fact, they could do so much for us, if they would. The division of a state is dreaded as a precedent. But a measure made expedient by a war, is no precedent for times of peace.”
And in the heart of that opinion written to the congress West Virginia found its birth on June 20th 1863.
Since the founding of this state, we have been a people of firm beliefs, and we hold fast to those beliefs in times of strife, upheaval, and trial.
It is by this that we proudly proclaim that “Mountaineers are ALWAYS FREE” Gathered here this week, we recognize our past, and look to our future with a renewed optimism that has surfaced with the leadership witnessed among our peers this week.
We are not only citizens of West Virginia, and the United State, but also the World. We have found gifts and recognized leadership traits we have never seen in ourselves this week. We have heard the great accomplishments of this state and its people, but we have debated heavily the problems that we face.
As the next greatest generation, it is up to us to be a generation that provides strong leadership and to live our motto – to always be free. We must take up the challenge presented to us throughout this week and demand change when we recognize that it is needed and to stand with our fellow citizens for the rights of all.
As we return home, with all the lessons we have learned – we recognize that this great state NEEDS US. Our hearts will always roam, if we should leave the hills that we call home.
Just as the water from the rivers of this state course to the seas, so too must our desire to take up the call of responsibility, and respond to the call of leadership.
We are proud, and we look to tomorrow with a new sense of purpose, In that when faced with a challenge, injustice or trial – we will stand together – take up that cause and lead – so that when we pass from this life – we will have left behind a state that is solid as its bedrock.