MORGANTOWN — As president of WVU, Gordon Gee spends a big part of his day telling students how to be successful in life.
Monday morning, at the Mountainlair, he instructed a group of incoming freshmen on the fine art of failure — namely his.
This is Gee’s second go-around as the top administrator of the state’s flagship university.
When he first occupied Stewart Hall in 1981, he was just 36 years old and one of the youngest university presidents in the country.
“I was so young, I didn’t even know how to spell university,” he told his audience in the Gold and Blue Ballroom.
Speaking before students there for new student orientation — WVU is hosting freshmen and their families through June 29 — Gee said he tried to be a student of how university presidents are “supposed” to act.
That is, how to dress, how to speak and how to conduct oneself on campus.
“I was miserable and I was failing,” said Gee, who is known for his on-the-fly witticisms, bow-ties and Argyle socks.
He only became effective as an administrator, he said, when he reverted to the ways he knew worked for him.
The trademark ties, colorful socks and even more colorful adlibs came back out, he said.
“Be who you are,” the president told the freshmen. “Celebrate your successes, and learn from your mistakes.”
Logan Rettino, a Washington, N.J., native about to embark on his freshman year, grinned at Gee as he held forth at the podium.
“He’s an upbeat, animated guy for sure,” said Rettino, who will major in business. “I think it’s a good choice coming here.”
Bring on autumn
The freshman isn’t the only one from his high school making the academic trek from the Garden State to the Mountain State. A couple of his buddies who were a year ahead of him are already
Logan’s dad, David Rettino, gave a two-word answer when asked what the fall semester will hold for him.
“Football season,” he said.
That’s because his other kid, David’s older sister, goes to the University of Alabama. Yep, that one, with the national championship football team coached by north-central West Virginia native Nick Saban.
The elder Rettino, meanwhile, said he appreciated the format of Monday’s session. Students learned about everything from registration, residence halls and even favorite restaurants in Morgantown.
Incoming freshmen for fall have been welcomed on campus since last month, said Sabrina Cave, an assistant vice president for student life.
As said, the sessions will run through the end of June.
“It’s about 700 freshmen a day,” she said. “We go every day, except Saturdays and Sundays. It’s a way to break everything down better.”
Flossing (and a vote for the future)
Breaking down — as in, showcasing his “Floss” dance moves from the popular “Fortnite” streaming video game — garnered more laughs than Gee, for Brandon Casturo, a senior from Pittsburgh who was helping lead campus tours on the rainy Monday.
Casturo and other students assisting with orientation get their star-turn in a video shown to freshmen.
And there he was, the real-life student laughing at his dancing video-self on the big screen.
“It is hilarious,” Casturo said. “Sometimes, the people doing the sessions call me out. They point over at me.”
It was no laughing matter when it came time to choose a school, said Casturo, who is majoring in finance and sustainable systems.
“I’ve had a great experience here and I’m getting a great education here,” he said. “For me, WVU was the best big college in the area.”
A big college with a big freshmen enrollment. Gee says to expect more than 5,000 freshmen when the first bells ring for the fall semester Aug. 15.
The first-day headcount for first-time freshmen students last fall totaled 5,241, according to numbers culled from the university.
Gee likes what those numbers represent. He likes that young people are opting for college in Morgantown.
“It’s a vote for the future and it’s a vote for our university,” he said.