Come home to West Virginia
A piece written for The Washington Post, by a young woman who says she is a native West Virginian, hit me hard. And probably not in the way she intended. Her perspective piece “I want to return to my home state. But West Virginia doesn’t want me,” was well intended, I think; but it betrayed an urgent need for an attitude shift — maybe for all of us.
According to the author, she chose to leave the state to attend college — a liberal arts college where she received a bachelor’s degree in modern languages and anthropology. She says she has lived in West Virginia, Argentina and Florida. She also observes she “considered moving home” to West Virginia after college, but was faced with “bleak professional options,” given her credentials. She believes her background left her with little to look forward to but “working in libraries or waitressing.” She goes further, to suggest her classmates who did not choose to leave the state “are mostly working as cashiers and servers, and there are a select few who work for the city or became bankers.”
I understand her complaint. I understand her point that West Virginia’s economy must diversify; that job prospects must broaden; that we cannot continue to live solely in our industrial/extraction industry past. But I would certainly offer a few challenges.
There are more examples than I can count — an entire state filled with them, in fact — of West Virginians of all generations who are not cashiers, servers, coal miners or librarians. Certainly just within my own personal circle I can point to friends who went through public school in West Virginia –and then chose to stay in West Virginia for their four-year or even graduate degrees — and are now lawyers, policy experts, communications directors, teachers, defense contractors, entrepreneurs, graphic designers … executive editors of daily newspapers … living and working right here in the Mountain State.
All of us are working hard to pull West Virginia forward. Its success is our success.
On the other hand, there is the old saying: If you want something, you will find a way. If you do not, you will find an excuse.
According to the author, she is a freelance writer and blogger, now. She could be doing that here. Of course, she makes the point that telecommunications access is almost nonexistent in a few parts of the state. It is state-of-the-art in others, though.
She says she “felt as if there was no place for my skills and passions, so I moved out of state;” and later in the piece “it’s not for a lack of wanting. I want to help West Virginia, but I don’t know how.”
Again, I do not mean to diminish her frustrations and concerns. She likely speaks for many former West Virginians. But it is time for everyone crying from the outlands for a change in West Virginia to come home and do something about it.
It is true, there are not many jobs available in West Virginia for which one of the requirements is a degree in modern languages and anthropology. You know what? There are not many in the rest of the nation, either.
West Virginia is the perfect place for a skilled, passionate person with ideas, energy and a true love of the state to make something happen.
But if, when the writer says the Mountain State does not “want” her, or people like her, she means going home would not be EASY, she is right. Nothing worth doing is easy. And bringing West Virginia along to an economy and culture more in line with what the writer envisions will take work. (By the way, much of what the writer says is underpinned by a feeling she does not feel included in the culture, as much as any concern about economic opportunity, though she does not admit it outright. She does go so far as to say “We don’t feel valued.” That is another story altogether.)
Come home, ma’am. Bring a few more folks with nontraditional skills sets, passion, ideas — but my goodness they’d better have a Mountain State work ethic — with you. Find a way.
Meanwhile, those of you who are already here, listen to what this young woman is saying, even if it ruffles your feathers a little like it did mine. Make sure she and others like her know we DO want them here — desperately. Show them how they can help.
If we don’t all work toward the common goal of propelling this great state into a diversified and thriving economy — if we aren’t willing to work together and work hard — then we are just going to keep looking for excuses.
Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org