Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sharing Nuru At West Virginia Governors Honor’s Academy 2015

During the summer before my senior year of high school, I had the privilege of being one of approximately 200 West Virginia students who were selected to participate in the WestVirginia Governor’s Honors Academy. During that time, I made some incredible friends, many of whom I have been privileged to stay in contact with even today thanks to technologies like Facebook. Friends that I made at GHA have moved on to incredible positions of leadership in West Virginia and around the world. I remember our summer at GHA being filled with amazing field trips and fun lectures that pushed our thinking about ourselves, our state, and the world. I also remember a whole lot of laughs and adventures in what was for me my first significant period of time away from home.

And last week, I was able to return to GHA. This time, I was among those lecturers presenting (hopefully I was fun too). I was invited to keynote the first evening of the last week of the academy. My subject was Nuru International, Nuru's West Virginia roots, and how this generation of West Virginians could join the fight to end of extreme poverty.

It was wonderful sharing with these students on a number of levels. As an organization, Nuru has some deep West Virginia roots. Jake, Nuru’s CEO and founder, hails from Preston County. Two of Nuru’s board members, Andy Cogar and John Hancox, reside in West Virginia. Not only that, but Andy and I both attended GHA when we were in high school and it had a profound impact on each of us. I have been privileged to represent Nuru and share with a wide variety of audiences, but for me, it’s always a little extra special when I get to share with fellow West Virginians, particularly young leaders.

The people of our state when at our best have always exemplified an ethos of service and of caring not only for the neighbor across the street, but also the neighbor across the world. And folks from many small towns around the world can probably empathize with the difficulty these young people might have when it comes to thinking about the kind of impact they could have in this world. It’s so easy to let our minds tell us that coming from small towns, it just feels next to impossible to make a difference in this world.

As I shared Nuru with these students, I offered them a concrete reminder that it is possible to have a global impact coming from the small towns where they are from. I told them that there are more Nuru supporters in West Virginia than in any other state, and that Jake had just been selected by peers to give remarks and introduce former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush at an event in Texas just a few days before. 

Additionally, I told them about some friends of mine I’ve met during the time since we started Nuru. These friends were all young people, and they were courageous enough to believe they could make a difference fighting extreme poverty—and they were successful. I told them about how a school in West Virginia became the first school in the country to organize a full week of events for Nuru.

Before I shared with the larger group, I was able to grab dinner with a few of the students and hear more about their stories, their hopes, and their dreams. I told them about how when me, Jake, John, and a number of others met at WVU, we were dreaming big dreams, and we were privileged to be part of a community of friends who have stayed in touch and worked to help one another make a contribution in this world, and that they should strive to do the same for each other. Honestly, when I was in high school, I didn’t really know much about the social challenges in this world, but these high school students were incredibly globally aware.

As I listened to each of them share their plans, all I kept thinking was this. These young people are incredibly focused. And as long as they maintain their focus, they are really going to change the world. I went to GHA with a hope that I could inspire these students, and I pray that I did. But, as I left, I thought, these students have really inspired me. They leave me incredibly hopeful for the future of our great state, of our country, and of this world as they go forward and rise to positions of greater and greater influence.

May this GHA class continue to grow in its leadership and its ability to influence the direction of our state, our country, and the world for good. And may you and I be mindful of the responsibility we have to continue to live out an ethos of service and work hard while we can to make the world better as this younger generation looks to us for guidance as they rise to the challenge of leading and shaping tomorrow's world.

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