The timing couldn’t be more perfect.
Just this week — in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day — a TV critic for The New Yorker disparaged our little city on Twitter.
Emily Nussbaum tweeted to her 280K followers:
“LOL, just watched an episode of The Dating Game in which the prize was a trip to glamorous … Roanoke, VA. That seems more like a punishment. …”
As you can imagine, the response was swift.
By the next morning, “Roanoke” was trending on Twitter, with local citizens, journalists, the Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge tourism bureau — even Gov. Northam’s Twitter account — coming to Roanoke’s defense. Author Stephen King is also involved, and not in a good way. The Roanoke Times covered the twitterstorm here.
Many of us reacted by noting what we LOVE about Roanoke, which included everything from the beautiful mountains to the families we are raising here.
It was an opportunity to send some hearts to our Star City.
I politely responded to Ms. Nussbaum with a photo of my license plate, which reads, “GLOW RKE.”
This was the same photo I included in my cover letter when I applied to Virginia Western five years ago.
The reason I included it in my cover letter was because it helped explain my grander mission – I wasn’t just going to be a “grant specialist” for the college. I was going to help *all of Roanoke* shine through my work. The photo also helped explain why I craft glow-in-the-dark “Mill Mountain Stardust” necklackes, but that’s another blog post.
This has taken years to really understand, but I find meaning in serving the greater Roanoke Valley, whether it’s writing for the daily newspaper, or designing grant projects for the college. I’m place-based to the core. But I also recognize the power *each one of us* has to help create the college and the community we want to live in. This is our common wealth.
Which reminds me of Virginia Western’s current vision: To be a forward-thinking community college inspiring individual, community and economic transformation.
Is it even possible to separate Virginia Western’s struggles and successes from the greater Roanoke region?
This brings me right back to my earlier discussion about relationships.
My quest to better appreciate relationships has led to another book: “Leadership and the New Science” by management professor Margaret Wheatley. This bestselling business classic was first published in 1994 — the same year my teenage self wanted to attend college as far away from Roanoke as possible — and the book was reissued and expanded in 2006.
Wheatley explores relationships from a scientific perspective: She looks at quantum physics, chaos theory, and biology to help organizations discover order in a chaotic world (to paraphrase the subtitle of her book).
So what does this have to do with my love for Roanoke and Virginia Western?
Wheatley says, by far, the most powerful force of attraction in our individual lives and in our organizations is meaning.
What called you here?
What were you dreaming you might accomplish when you first came to work here?
These questions are critical as we move forward through the pandemic, our racial reckoning, and economic and political strife.
Because our systems, our communities, our students — we — are in crisis, and we will change only if we decide the change is meaningful to who we are (148).
She writes: “When an organization knows who it is, what its strengths are, and what it is trying to accomplish, it can respond intelligently to changes from its environment.” (85)
Do we know the answers to these questions? Would most of us agree?
And I will ask again, and will keep asking:
- What called you here?
- How does your work at Virginia Western speak to your purpose?
- How do we move forward in a way that is meaningful to you?
— Stephanie Ogilvie Seagle, February 2021