Since June of 2007, I’ve embraced the unknown. It’s part of what excites me for the next phase of my life.
A decade ago, I was preparing for my departure from West Virginia. I had just graduated from Marshall University studying communications and commissioned as a second lieutenant into the U.S. Army. This was also amid losing my sister, Emmy Lou, to a brain tumor at the age of 23.
A month later, I was off to become an infantry officer and lead soldiers into battle. I quickly began examining life as a series of experiences with defining moments that shape one’s understanding for the world, and it’s that understanding that led me back into the arms of our mountain momma – West Virginia.
After leaving the Army due to a spinal injury, I contemplated the next step. I decided to go to graduate school to focus on peace and conflict resolution. And while my motivations were rooted in my own trauma, I learned more about development and nonprofit work in post-conflict environments, like Serbia, Kosovo, or Northern Ireland. Upon graduating in 2014, I worked on disasters with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Oakland, California as a Presidential Management Fellow.
It was during this time that my mother asked, “Why do you have to travel around the world when there are problems to solve here?” This was powerful, especially considering I was visiting home when the Elk River was contaminated and driving to Ashland, Kentucky to get clean water for my family’s animal sanctuary.
I didn’t know how to answer her question. While I had voiced my frustrations with finding few opportunities that would allow me to return to the state, I was beginning to notice that I was part of a system built to ignore our state and region.
Far from home in the Oakland hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay Area, I’d spend hours with a fellow West Virginian dreaming up ideas for our Mountain State. Much of our conversations centered on quality of place, jobs and education. We discussed how coming from West Virginia made us extremely hard working, tenacious, and respectful of others. We often debated about the push and pull effect of the Mountain State. These discussions emboldened me to examine who I was, what I wanted, and where I wanted to be.
And the answers I found? Well, they’ve led me back here.
When I decided to move back to West Virginia my professional experience looked more like a Picasso painting than a Rembrandt. But I knew these three things:
1. I was ready to be a part of enacting serious change to empower West Virginians to develop opportunities for young people in the state.
2. I was ready for the unknown in relearning this place I’ve always called home – to use a new lens, one I’ve developed from years away, to gain new perspective on my heritage and how it could positively influence the future.
3. And I was ready to prove to myself that a new beginning in West Virginia would be more enriching than anything I could find elsewhere.
So, I left in the middle of another graduate program in Washington, D.C. to become the Program Director at Generation West Virginia.
There are no silver bullets to the challenges our state faces and it does us no favors to deny or ignore them. But one solution is to empower a generation of problem solvers to not be afraid of the unknown, to check our self-limitations at the door, and not be afraid of failure. It’s been a long haul for me to return, and I’m excited to explore where I’m putting down roots and the change possible within a community of folks taking action to shape our future.
Oh, you haven’t heard?
It was our understanding everyone had heard. …Well, Bill Kuhn hates sandworms, but loves Saturn. He’s an idea person who would rather think about possibilities than limits. He is a model railroad engineer, U.S. Army veteran, and now the Program Director at Generation West Virginia.
Like party favors, but for your brain. Enjoy these weekly goodies including viral videos, interesting articles, curated playlists, and more!
- LISTEN: Bill generously curated this week’s playlist.
- READ: NYT’s review of “In the Language of Miracles,” written by Marshall University grad Rajia Hassib
- TUNE IN: More Marshall University grads, this time hosting the Nerds with Mics podcast