Every fall during Mountaineer Week at West Virginia University, two outstanding students are recognized as Ms. and Mr. Mountaineer. Five male and five female finalists are selected from the student body based on their outstanding academic achievements at WVU and their involvement in extracurricular activities. The honorees are then announced during halftime of the WVU football game at Milan Puskar Stadium, marking the conclusion of Mountaineer Week.
On October 28, 2017, at halftime of the WVU/Oklahoma State football game, there was not only one Herbert Hoover Alum standing at midfield as a finalist with his Elk River family, but two; best friends and WVU roommates, Hunter White and Garrett Burgess. Hunter White is the son of J.E. and Rhonda White of Clendenin. Garrett Burgess is the son of Mark Burgess of Elkview, and Sheila Parsons of Clendenin, now in Rock Hill, SC.
Garrett Burgess received the nod and was announced as WVU’s 2017 Mr. Mountaineer. Savannah Lusk former graduate of Wyoming East High School was named Ms. Mountaineer.
Garrett Burgess played basketball, and ran cross country and track while at Hoover. He was also a member of the “We the People” debate team and the National Honor Society. He is now a Senior Honors College student at WVU and a Political Science and Russian Studies major. This past year he was endorsed by WVU for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship and the British Marshall Scholarship. He serves as a Student Ambassador for the Eberly College, and is President of the WVU Model United Nations Team and the Russian Club. He is also a Wing Commander in the Air Force ROTC Detachment.
The Clendenin Leader spoke with Garrett about this amazing honor and asked him what it meant to him to be an Elk River native and to have been named WVU’s 2017 Mr. Mountaineer.
“Although I was back and forth between Rock Hill, South Carolina and the Elk River area growing up, much of my time was spent here, as most of my family is from here. I was proud to have graduated from Herbert Hoover in 2014. Growing up in the Elk River community, WVU is sort of engrained in who you are, so my college decision was an easy one. As far as being named Mr. Mountaineer, I had considered it a great honor in simply being nominated.”, said Garrett humbly. He continued, “More importantly, I think that it shows that Hoover graduates and kids from the Elk River can accomplish anything.”
Throughout his time at WVU, Garrett has been engaged in addressing important public issues. Earlier in 2017, he eloquently spoke at a joint press conference with Governor Justice regarding critical funding issues in higher education. On April 1st the Bluefield Telegraph wrote:
Garrett Burgess, a West Virginia University student, also discussed potential cuts during the press conference. Burgess said he hopes the Legislature doesn’t end up cutting funding to education, mentioning that cuts have increased, tuition has increased but financial assistance has decreased. “It’s harder to start your life in West Virginia after education,” Burgess said, later adding. “We need to be investing in education rather than cutting it. This is a way to ensure a better future in West Virginia.”
On April 5th WV Public Broadcasting ran an article about those speaking out in opposition of the then House and Senate budget deal which would decrease funding for education. Again, Garrett spoke publicly and WVPBS reported as follows:
As a WVU student who graduated from Herbert Hoover High School, Garrett Burgess said he is a product of the West Virginia education system all the way through, and that these cuts just wouldn’t make sense for the future of the state. “In West Virginia we say we value opportunities for all,” Burgess said, “yet the sentiment has not been shared in the halls of this legislature.” Burgess said that since 2008, higher education funding has been reduced by $130 million and tuition in the state has gone up by 147 percent since 2002. “Investing in higher education rather than cutting it is a way West Virginia can ensure better future and more opportunities for its people,” said Burgess. The Times WV reported a similar story on April 6 which also included many quotes from Garrett on this issue.
Earlier in 2017, Garrett was also named a Newman Civic Fellow by the Campus Compact, a national non-profit organization. He plans to use his fellowship year to work with the Veterans Advocacy Clinic in the College of Law. Here he plans to help those who received less-than-honorable discharges due to misconduct arising from mental trauma such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Click HERE to read WV Public Broadcasting’s story “WVU Fellowship Winner Aims To Help Veterans Access Benefits”, about Garrett being awarded a Newman Civil Fellowship.
He has traveled abroad studying Russian in Latvia and Lithuania as a recipient of a prestigious Project GO Scholarship, a critical language scholarship for ROTC. He was also awarded a Gilman Scholarship to return to Latvia for an internship to conduct field research on the effects of the Russian language on politics and the relations between the Baltic nations and Russia.
Garrett and Hunter teamed up on a film project together while at WVU in 2016 and produced a short documentary-type video called “The Invisible Wound”. Garrett acted the part of a veteran suffering from the effects of PTSD. This production was so good that it became a finalist at the 2016 WVU Campus Movie Fest and was awarded a Jury Award. View all student entries for the 2016 WVU Campus Movie Fest.
Garrett and Hunter are again at work on another project together and this one is directly related to the Elk River area. Both of these young men volunteered to assist with relief efforts shortly after the 2016 flood, even bringing other WVU students with them to help. They saw the devastation first hand, so later decided to apply for a grant to assist them in funding another documentary-type project about the flood. This will include documenting the long-term effects of the flood to our area and to the people who lived through it. They are currently interviewing many individuals up and down the Elk River Valley for this project and The Leader plans to follow their progress and report it as it becomes available.
The Leader asked 2017’s Mr. Mountaineer if he had any advice he could share with current Hoover students. Garrett responded,
“If this does anything, I hope that it shows the younger generation of kids in our area, and at Hoover, that they have no limits. The community went through a very rough time after the flood, and for Hunter and I both to have been nominated says a lot. Some think you have to go to GW or a private school to have a great shot in college or life. That’s just not true. This proves that we on Elk River, and as Hoover graduates, are not limited in what we can do or accomplish. Where we come from does not matter.”
It is important to note that this recognition is not the same as being named Homecoming King, which is done through student voting. The Mr. Mountaineer honor is based on academic achievement and extracurricular activities. It requires a sponsor (usually the department in which they study), essay writing, and an interviewing process.
Garrett and Hunter sat down with The Leader and talked about how they were both selected as finalist. Ironically neither knew that the other had even applied. They also discuss the selection process for becoming a finalist and for ultimately being selected as Mr. Mountaineer.
(Listen to Audio Clip Below)
Congratulations to Garrett Burgess, 2017’s WVU Mr. Mountaineer, and to Hunter White, a finalist for the award! Herbert Hoover graduates doing exceptional things in life and making all of Elk River very proud!
Also CLICK HERE to check out the “Youth Spotlight” interview with 2017 WVU Mr. Mountaineer Finalist, Hunter White!