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Monday, June 10, 2013
As the news of Virginia Tech President Charles Steger’s retirement came across my inbox on May 14, I was not at all surprised. Having just been announced as the university’s commencement speaker, it seemed like the right time for a man who has accomplished and endured so much on behalf of a university and community that he’s loved and has loved him back.
As a second-year student in higher education at Tech, one year after receiving my bachelor’s degree here in Blacksburg, I thought back to the first time that I met the man.
It was in April 2008, and I didn’t consider myself a Hokie just yet. As I sat in The Grove, the university president’s on-campus residence, and shook hands with him and his wife, I immediately recognized the wisdom of the man who stood before me.
He spoke with such humility about his love for Virginia Tech, and the importance of the education I would receive in leadership, community and academics. He did this even as the university was in the middle of a nasty legal battle, caused by an event outside of everyone’s control, that threatened the legacy of a truly great community and university.
As a person with a disability who has dealt with my own share of trials and tribulations, I was awestruck. It is not hard to feel his dedication to everyone he serves when, looking back on his years as president of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, he said, “When one is totally absorbed in doing what one loves, 14 years pass in an instant.”
I believe Steger has endured more than any other college president in the commonwealth. Since his inauguration at the turn of the century, he has pursued all three of our university’s missions — teaching, research, outreach and extension — at the local, state, national and global levels, all while positively impacting everyone in our community. Though he’s leaving Tech, his impact will be felt long after he’s gone.
Even though Steger is a Hokie, his work in Richmond will be some that I will remember most. Traveling to the state capital to lobby with him and Virginia21 will be some of my fondest college memories. Listening to him speak with state leaders about not only Virginia Tech, but the importance of the entire Virginia higher education system and the rich legacy that we have forged will always inspire me.
Fighting cuts to higher education budgets, he was an effective leader who raised the profile of the value and quality of all higher education in Virginia.
One year away from my own master’s degree in higher education, I am just one student out of many Steger has inspired during his long career. On behalf of the young people I have worked with as a student at Tech, and as a member of the statewide network of student leaders at Virginia21, I want to tell him: We are forever in your debt. Thank you.
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