Liz McCormick Published

What's Next, West Virginia? Mountaineer Boys State Says It's Time for Change



Almost every year since 1936, a select group of high schools boys have attended Mountaineer Boys State, and since 1941 girls have attended Rhododendron Girls State. The week long camps, sponsored by the American Legion, focus on citizenship, leadership and patriotism. This year, Boys State focused on the nonpartisan, statewide initiative, What’s Next, West Virginia?  The young men at Boys State had a great deal to add to a conversation on positive change in West Virginia during a 45 minute discussion in Charleston.

Topics included:

  • West Virginia’s greatest strengths.
  • West Virginia’s greatest challenges.
  • The opportunities West Virginia offers to develop a more prosperous state.
  • What the boys would like to see in West Virginia 20 years from now.
  • What they see as their role in helping West Virginia thrive.

“I think the youth is our greatest strength, because anywhere you go in West Virginia you always see, I feel, as if, I always see kids trying to take initiative with helping the future, like Boys State.”
“I think our environment, our state’s natural beauty, really makes us unique, our rolling green hills, and everything, really makes our tourist industry strong.”

“I really feel that West Virginia’s greatest asset lies with the people. Our state has had a history of adversity and overcoming it, and I think the responsibility for that has, or can be attributed to the people of our state.”

Many boys believed West Virginia’s greatest challenge was keeping its youth in the state, noting the lack of jobs for college graduates as the biggest obstacle.

“I know for me, somebody who doesn’t really plan on going into the natural gas industry or any energy industries, at least where I’m from, there really isn’t much for me…which is honestly really depressing, cause I love Wheeling, I love where I come from, but there’s just no jobs there, there’s just no where for me to go after college, other than somewhere else.”

“…most of our highly qualified, intelligent people are leaving the state and going to other states and other cities to work. What I feel we need to work on, is we need to keep these intelligent people in the state, improving the state for us.”

The students said tourism could be West Virginia’s greatest ally in building a more prosperous state, but to do this, they felt the state would need to work on refurbishing areas that are falling apart.

“You go to some of the larger cities in our state, and you see winding roads, you see dilapidated buildings. We need to focus on urban planning, because businesses that want to locate in cities don’t want to locate in cities that their employees won’t move too. Essentially, we need to focus on beautification of our cities. We need to focus on making it more applicable to the modern industry.”

“…instead of refurbishing them and making the town look better, they’re building new buildings on the outskirts of town. So I think a lot of the things we need to focus on is restoration, instead of keep building more stuff, while we have buildings that can be still used.”

Another big challenge the boys noted was West Virginia’s image.

“West Virginia also has a stereotype of being like, hillbillies or lower-class, that necessarily isn’t true. It gives us a bad name, which makes people not want to come here.”

“Not only does West Virginia have that stereotype, there’s also those people who either don’t realize or don’t remember the fact that we’re a state. You say, where are you from? West Virginia. Oh is that Richmond?”

“But if we, you know, put off as a youth, as a whole, as a state a new persona, stating that West Virginia is, you know, the wild and wonderful state that it is, then I think that will also help, you know, people come to West Virginia.”

Improving infrastructure, education, and building human capital were also specific suggestions.    

“Well I like to think is our greatest opportunity lies is where we’re weakest. We’re weak and our buildings are falling apart. We’re not using our buildings. Our education is low, this means that we can use our education that is low, we can bring teachers in that are renowned teachers that know what they’re talking about, are very respected. Bring those in, you’ll be able to bring up a generation that is very respectable…this is where we have opportunity.”

“I personally believe the most critical one right now is education, because that is our future. We are our future. Each consecutive generation are going to be those who help the state, and if they are uneducated, then what hands have we put our state in?”

Twenty years from now, these young men want to see an even greener West Virginia.

“The biggest thing I’d like to see in twenty years; an expansion of renewable energy, like solar panels, wind power, and hydroelectric power, because we’re currently focusing on only temporary fixes for energy like…coal…that’s just not going to be around forever, we can’t expect to depend fully on that…The world is, entirely, is gonna have to transition over to green energy eventually. That’s hundreds years down the road, but to be in the leading forefront of everybody, to be switching to green energy would be wonderful…”

Several said the role they play begins today; that they have a responsibility to make the people around them see West Virginia as they do.

“…be active in the community, take school seriously, work hard the way we like too. I think that’s our role, and I think in twenty years, if we take on that role in twenty years, I think the statistics will change. I think West Virginia will, will really be seen for what it really is.”

“I think it’s the role of our generation, and us in this room, the men of tomorrow, the leaders of tomorrow to be the pioneers for the future, and the engineers of change, because we are gonna be in these public positions, we are gonna be in charge of what changes we want to see. We have to be that change in our state that we want to see in the future.”