Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation President and Executive Director Jesse Pope ’02 to speak at 2022 Convocation ceremony

Convocation, an annual tradition that opens each academic year, will be held on Thursday, August 18 at 3:30 p.m. in Hayes Auditorium. This year’s keynote speaker will speak to the anxieties, excitement, and opportunity that students feel at the start of a new year.

On Thursday, students, faculty, and staff will hear from Lees-McRae alumnus Jesse Pope ’02, current President and Executive Director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the nonprofit organization behind the Grandfather Mountain nature park.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in Biology with a naturalist concentration─ a precursor to Wildlife Biology─ from Lees-McRae, Pope took the lessons he learned, and his love and stewardship for nature, and forged a path for himself, landing a position working with and protecting the great outdoors at Grandfather Mountain.

Pope has held numerous positions within the park over his 20 years of service, from backwoods ranger, to zookeeper, to now president and executive director. While the responsibilities of each role differed widely, Pope said that the throughline from all his years at Grandfather Mountain has been the pursuit of his passion.

“At Convocation I'll share a couple of my stories from Lees-McRae, and how that experience has helped me be successful in my time here at Grandfather Mountain, but my real success has been through passion and finding what I love and really following that,” Pope said. “My father and my uncle both really impressed upon me when I was young to do what you love in life and not try to chase money or a certain lifestyle, but really chase what it is that you love. I spent my time at Lees-McRae really exploring that, and that has ultimately led to my success.”

Now led by Pope, the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation owns and operates the Mile High Swinging Bridge, Wilson Center for Nature Discovery, and the Mildred the Bear Wildlife Habitat. The goal of the foundation is to engage people with the outdoors and influence them to be active participants in the world around them.

Protecting the rich habitats and natural beauty of Grandfather Mountain and the surrounding state park is a responsibility that Pope and the rest of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation team have taken head-on, and one they hold in high regard. Focusing on sustainability, preservation, and education means that the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation holds values that closely align with those of Lees-McRae, and tenets that Pope himself developed during his time at the college.

At Convocation, Pope will share stories about his time at Lees-McRae and the significant ripple effects being a Bobcat has made throughout his life. From allowing him to meet his wife, to helping him discover his passion for the outdoors, to preparing him to climb up the ranks of Grandfather Mountain, Pope said he will always feel connected to Lees-McRae.

“I talk about this a lot, but ‘In the Mountains, Of the Mountains, For the Mountains,’ has very much been my life. I grew up in southwest Virginia in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, went to Lees-McRae for college, and now work at Grandfather Mountain, so my life has very much been about the mountains─ in, of, and for,” Pope said. “I feel so tied to Lees-McRae College for so many reasons. Lees-McRae, and ‘In the Mountains, Of the Mountains, For the Mountains,’ are just in my DNA.”

All students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to attend the Convocation ceremony in person. A livestream link will be shared with Online and Distance Learning students and faculty.

By Maya JarrellAugust 16, 2022
AlumniCampus Life