As this will be my last President's Message for the Alumni Record, I’d like to write about one of my favorites subjects: History.
Last year we celebrated 200 years of education in Lewisburg but more importantly from our perspective, the 200th anniversary of the founding of what would eventually become Greenbrier Military School. This year West Virginia celebrates their 150th year of statehood. Both anniversaries are connected and are the reason we all share this common identity, namely Greenbrier Military School. When Dr. John McElhenney made his way north from South Carolina to the small village of Lewisburg in what was then Western Virginia, he had no way of knowing the long lasting consequences of his actions. Often the greatest and most important exploits tend to go unnoticed at the time. To be sure Dr. McElhenney could not have envisioned the thousands of young men who would be directly influenced by his commitment to eduction. Even today his legacy transcends history and directly influence medical students at WVSOM.
Men and women make history everyday although the significance of their endeavors will not be known or appreciated for some time. I’m reminded of that humble but well crafted line from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” History has an elegant way of filtering out the important from the mere inconsequential.
As is often quoted in these pages: “Something important happened here.” Certainly to those of us who attended GMS, this place is special. These grounds may not be hallowed, but for those of us who experienced Greenbrier, they come close. We lived here, we learned here and we gained a sense of self here. The institution’s original mission itself may have changed, but young people continue to live here, learn here and by all means gain a sense of self here. Life continues and history will record it, great or small; good or bad.
In the span of our lifetime we’ve witnessed a transformation not only in our selves but in the very institution that provided that history. Our school’s history will endure as long as we honor it. Change is inevitable and how we deal with it affects us directly.
History is about our yearning to identify with the past. It is about our desire to hold on to some stability and the perception of continuity. We arrive here in Lewisburg every October desiring to find a source to our present identity. We live again in the 1950s or 60s searching for fading echoes of our beloved Greenbrier. In many ways they were never lost, only hidden away in a long forgotten memory that springs to life on the Front Formation Court during Retreat or at Old Stone Presbyterian Church on Sunday morning.
However you define history, Greenbrier Military School played an important role by endowing our country with men of truth, duty and honor. Our Hall of Fame comprises only a small sample of those men. From our halls came future leaders in the Armed Forces, the professions, business and industry spreading the character, discipline and leadership that was forged here. When we gather again this October we can stand tall knowing that we are indeed part of history.
And now, like so many other chapters in our lives, our Association is about to turn the page on yet one more. I want to thank you for the opportunity to serve GMSAA, an honor well above my pay grade. To borrow from the Hippocratic Oath, my first duty was to do no harm. Your Association will be in excellent hands with President Bill Isbister. He brings a wealth of experience to the office and will lead our Association as we tread into uncharted waters. Our future is bright as our history is secure.
- Grey Webb