Lees-McRae Opening Convocation Speaker Jesse Pope ’02 Urges Students to Follow Passion

August 21, 2015

Students, faculty and staff who attended the annual Lees-McRae Opening Convocation ceremony on Thursday, August 20 were inspired by the message woven throughout the program – follow your passion and you'll find success.

Keynote speaker Jesse Pope kicked off his speech with the Lees-McRae motto—in the mountains, of the mountains, for the mountains—which has shaped his life and led him to his current position as executive director of Grandfather Mountain.

Pope's journey started in rural Virginia, where he spent much of his childhood outdoors. As a three-sport high school athlete, he envisioned a future as a teacher and coach. That all changed with one field biology course his freshman year at Lees-McRae. He transferred the passion he had for teaching and coaching into a passion for wildlife and biology.

Working with Hugh Morton, the founder of Grandfather Mountain, Pope learned several valuable lessons. A few lessons stuck with him, including the advice to find a cause he could fully embrace and to have fun even when this cause presented challenges.  Pope reiterated a quote from Jane Goodall to emphasize his point. "If you want something, and you really work hard, and you take advantage of opportunities, and you never give up, you will find a way," he said.

This quote holds true for Pope. He started as a backcountry ranger at Grandfather Mountain the summer he graduated from Lees-McRae. After noticing a need for a naturalist program, proposing a solution to address that need, and growing student visitors to almost 20,000 annually, Pope has worked his way into the senior leadership position. He credits Morton, saying "he gave me a chance to expand educational opportunities in 2004 at Grandfather Mountain, and the program was a big success out of the gate.

“Opportunities don’t just happen, it's up to you to create them,” said Pope. “Every moment is a choice. Each decision you make will shape your story and ultimately, your legacy." This is the message he left with the crowd Thursday afternoon. He concluded by encouraging students to be open minded about where life might lead, to always look for opportunities as they present themselves, and to use their time at Lees-McRae to explore as many opportunities as possible.

For more information, please contact Meghan McCandless, director of communications, at mccandlessm@lmc.edu or 828.898.8729.

Media Contact:

Nina Mastandrea  |  Content Manager
Tel: 828.898.8729  |  Email: mastandrean@lmc.edu