On Sunday, West Virginia University will not only officially enter a powerhouse conference - the Big 12 - but it will embrace a new era of "bigger, better and bolder," President Jim Clements told a sold-out crowd of Mountaineer faithful Thursday at the 34th annual WVU Alumni Luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
"We will officially join our new colleagues in the Big 12, and we will do so not just on the playing fields, but in the classrooms and in the research labs as well," Clements said. "This transition marks a new era of bigger, better and bolder. We're joining a true power conference. Just look at the key word in the name of our new conference - BIG. That's the true essence of a Mountaineer.
"Mountaineers strive to be the best at everything we do - and we do it with the highest level of quality, nothing less."
The entry into the Big 12 should be a celebration and reflection of what WVU has already accomplished, Clements said. But it also serves as a means for looking toward a bright future.
WVU enters the conference with a strong athletic record, Clements noted. WVU is one of only three programs (including Ohio State and Florida) to have won three BCS games and made a Final Four since 2005. He also applauded the women's cross country Top 10 national finishes, women's soccer NCAA appearances and the rifle team's national championships.
More importantly, WVU has excelled on the academic field, Clements said.
WVU now has 22 Truman Scholars, and this year, the university's 34th and 35th Goldwater Scholars were named. Just this month, WVU announced its fifth Fulbright Scholar of the year - the most for the university ever in one year. Student enrollment continues to climb to record highs.
"We've become a school of choice - not just for West Virginians, but for students from around the globe who recognize that WVU provides the education they need to succeed in an increasingly challenging and competitive workplace," Clements said.
For nearly 35 years, the WVU Alumni Association's National Capital Area Chapter has hosted the Alumni Luncheon on Capitol Hill honoring West Virginia's congressional delegation and alumni and friends of WVU.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, and Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley, both R-W.Va., attended the luncheon, held at the Washington Court Hotel. Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Rep. Nick Jo Rahall were unable to attend.
This year's luncheon also coincided with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which features the WVU Steel Drum Band and the "father of the modern steel drum band" Ellie Mannette on the National Mall. Both events celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act and the role land-grant universities, such as WVU, have played in educating students.
"On the Mall this week, people from all over the world are seeing WVU at work, and hearing the joyful, beautiful sound of the steel drum," Clements said. "In fact, the sound of 'Country Roads' calypso-style are resonating across the National Mall. It does not get much better than that."
Mannette, who was unable to attend the luncheon, performed with the Steel Drum Band on Wednesday night.