Spring — new beginnings, new hopes, new dreams. The daffodils peek up from their beds. The azaleas explode with color. Ramps offer a pungent smell in the hollers. Rhododendrons frame the forest tapestry. The sleepy sow jousts awake her cubs and searches for a long awaited meal. The cardinal’s melody and the spring gobbler’s raspy call echo throughout those West Virginia hills.

Fly fishermen cast the steams for that elusive golden trout, kayakers and rafters paddle the cold, swollen rivers, while baseball fans welcome “Opening Day” with hope and optimism. And Mountaineer fans celebrate the spring game with renewed enthusiasm and the dreams and promises of a new football coach.

Besides these annual rites of spring, students all across the Mountain State memorialize their achievements as “Pomp and Circumstance” escorts them to graduation podiums. In Morgantown, “Country Roads” is sung by the blue and gold multitude, a tribute to our heritage.

Graduation speeches are usually forgettable and long, often delaying the new grads’ celebration. However, among the parties and celebrations, an important message is usually offered, a message of hope and encouragement.

As we look across the mortar boards and robes, we wonder. What will the future bring? How will these new grads embrace the world and tackle its challenges? Will this new generation wilt at the task and bury themselves in their “devices,” oblivious to the world around them? Or will they take up the mantle and accept the torch with confidence and determination? Will they emulate that “Greatest Generation” who, as a bunch of 18 to 20-year olds, literally saved the world?

In this era of social media, do they even know what D-Day was? Do they know that 75 years ago some 156,000 American teenagers stormed the beaches of Normandy to push back the evil Nazi axis? Do they know that nearly 5,000 died or were wounded racing and crawling toward Nazi pillboxes on June 6, 1944?

Do they know that the Blue and Gray (29th) Infantry Division, made up of West Virginians and Marylanders were among those charging up Omaha Beach? Perhaps some of those were their grandfathers and great grandfathers.

Do they know that Nazi Germany had conquered virtually all of Europe by D-Day? Do they know that Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Rome, Vienna, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, Warsaw and Prague had been captured and occupied? Do they know that Adolph Hitler and his henchmen captured and murdered some 6 million Jews and another 5 million Soviets, Catholics, Intellectuals, Freemasons, Gypsies, Homosexuals, Poles and Serbs?

Do they know that there are Holocaust deniers, even members of Congress, who claim it never happened? Do they know that we’re in a battle for our collective souls and way of life? It’s not waged on the beaches of Normandy, the deserts of Afghanistan, the jungles of Vietnam or the forests of the Ardennes, but on the airwaves, the internet and in the classrooms.

Do they know that China is not our friend and ally and has pledged to rule the world in this century? Do they know that radical Islamists have pledged to erase Israel and America from the face of the Earth? Do they realize that Russia has plotted against us for seven decades? Do they know that China is waging an economic war with us, even as you read this? Do they know that Russia and China have troops and weapons in Central America, Venezuela and Cuba? Do they know that radical Islamists in Iran have the desire and capability of building an atomic bomb? Do they know that the crazy leader in North Korea has a bomb and might just use it?

Do they know that America is and has been the shining city on the hill; the one light of freedom and liberty for the world? Do they know that we have some of the most liberal immigration policies in the world? Do they know that uncurbed, illegal immigration will continue to overwhelm our social service, health care, financial and educational capabilities? Do they know that America stopped nearly all immigration for 40 years in the 20th Century, giving time for new immigrants to assimilate to the language, culture and the American way of life?

Despite what we hear about the Millennials, I’m optimistic. Having taught at Shepherd for seven years, I’ve seen the future and the future is good. If these West Virginia students are representative of this generation, we can rest assured that our nation and our world is in good hands.  

So as spring explodes in the Appalachians, likewise our new generation of leaders explode into the workforce. What innovations will you bring? A cure for cancer? Manned space travel to Mars? An end to world hunger? I can’t wait to see what wonders you’ll create and the places you’ll go!

Zimmer is the retired coordinator of Shepherd’s MBA program. He graduated from both WVU and Maryland. His daughter and son-in-law are recent graduates of the William & Mary Law School. He may be reached at wzimmer@shepherd.edu.