Chancellor Donna P. Henry delivered a message of inclusion to freshmen and others who gathered in the David J. Prior Convocation Center Tuesday as the University of Virginia’s College at Wise began a new academic year, and she said the diversity has practical application in the education experience.
Speaking at Fall Convocation, Henry welcomed the freshmen and said they will get a global education in the heart of Appalachia at UVa-Wise. The College, founded in 1954 by community leaders determined to provide access to higher education, has always been a college for all, Henry added. The College welcomed Korean War veterans, coal miners and their children, aspiring doctors, entrepreneurs and politicians because it is an institution founded by the people, for the people, she told the crowd.
“Clinch Valley College, as our College was known then, enrolled our first African American student in 1960 when other Virginia colleges and universities were not open to black students,” Henry said.
The tradition of hospitality and openness is a hallmark of UVa-Wise, and she credited the late Joseph Smiddy, the school’s first chancellor, for making the campus welcome to all from the start. Smiddy always reminded those he met “we have a place for you at Clinch Valley College” Henry explained.
“The refrain still rings true today,” Henry said. “We have a place for you at UVa-Wise. It means you are welcome here. It means your individuality can shine bright here. It means your personal ambitions and dreams can take form and shape here. You can achieve your highest heights and soar to the furthest skies. We have a place for you, whether you are a student from Appalachia, Richmond, Alexandria, Los Angeles, Kiev or Rangoon.”
Henry said she sees symmetry between the College now and the coal mines of a century ago where people of all backgrounds harvested the coal that fueled the nation and the world.
“Sometimes not well known or acknowledged, the Appalachian region was a destination for opportunity and employment for diverse peoples,” she said. “Americans of various races and ethnicities alongside immigrants from Poland, Hungary and Italy came here to work and to define a better life for themselves and their families. Through sacrifice and hard work, they worked together to transform the world.”
Wise is still a destination for many, especially students from all over the country and the world who seek new opportunities, new skills, and hope to obtain knowledge, the chancellor added. Students from Bahamas, Brazil, China, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, Romania, Rwanda and Ukraine attend UVa-Wise. Henry said there are 25 countries of origin represented on campus.
“We celebrate this diversity, both the rich Appalachian culture that I have come to love, and the various cultures and practices that travel here from near and far,” Henry said. Our diversity has true practical application in the educational experience. We live in an increasingly interconnected world. Information has no borders. The environment has no borders. Medical discovery has no borders.”
The best education prepares students for the global nature of human existence, and that is why UVa-Wise offers study abroad programs to six sister institutions around the globe, she added. UVa-Wise offers students the chance to study at more than 400 universities in 65 different countries, she explained.
“At UVa-Wise, the world is at your fingertips,” Henry said. “We have a place for you. That place is right here in Wise…in classrooms, athletic fields, laboratories, residence halls, gardens and outdoor facilities. That place is also in the world at large, at study abroad locations on every continent. Make yourself at home at UVa-Wise, and you make yourself home in the world.”
Henry thanked the freshmen for choosing UVa-Wise, and said the entire campus trusts each one to work hard and put their best foot forward as classes begin on Wednesday, Aug. 15.