By C. PETER MAGRATH

Once a MountaineerAlways a Mountaineer.

That was the phrase West Virginia Universitys quarterback Pat White proclaimed to a national ESPN television audience following the MountaineersMeineke Car Care Bowl victory over North Carolina.

Think about it. This young man from Daphne, Ala., is one of the greatest players in college football today. Yet, instead of talking about setting a record for leading four straight teams to bowl wins or breaking the NCAA career rushing record for quarterbacks, he talked about his love for this University.

I was on the field for the trophy presentation when he spoke those words. He was hugging his mentor, Coach Bill Stewart. Coach Stew was embracing him. I literally got chills. I still have them when I think about this young student-athletes allegiance to a place so many of us call home.

As the spring semester arrives and many of us head back to campus, it struck me that this affinity, this singular spirit, lives in everyone who calls him or herself a Mountaineerwhether they live in Alabama, Oman, West Virginia or Beijing.

It envelops us all, from WVU student and Jack Kent Cooke Scholar Mollie McCartney, who came to WVU as a freshman from Walkersville, W.Va.the first in her family to attend college, who says WVU gave her the vision to realize her dream of attending medical school and becoming a rural physicianto geography professor Ken Martis, the 2007 Carnegie West Virginia Professor of the Year, who encourages his studentsto change themselves and the world.

The spirit is evident when you talk to others such as Emily Renzelli from Bridgeport, W.Va., who studied abroad in South Africa and devoted herself to fighting poverty in Malawi, and says the WVU experience helped her becomea global advocate.

Its evident when you listen to students like Donald LaGuerre, a soccer player from Trinidad and Tobago, who speaks passionately to new students about the opportunity tofind their placehere in Morgantown.

And I cant help but be moved by the way the generosity of benefactors Ben and Jo Statlerwhose gift of a mobile mammography unit christenedBonnies Busin honor of Jos mother, who succumbed to breast cancerwill save lives across the state.

I am moved by the pride that Charles Vest, WVU alumnus and retired president emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has shown by joining the Board of Governors and committing his efforts to attracting a great president to lead this University into the future.

There are countless other examples: parents who never attended college but come here to drop off and visit their children in Morgantownand then fall in love with WVU . And alumni, who formed lifelong friendships here or who met and married their partners for life. And patients whose lives are saved and forever changed by caring nurses and doctors at WVU s hospitals, clinics and Health Sciences Center.

But perhaps this comment from chemistry major Paul Flood of Burke, Va., sums it up best:I want to be a part of something that doesnt end after four years. Once you graduate, you are always a part of the Mountaineer family, and that family extends all over the world. I want to be able to walk into a restaurant or store and say,LETS GO,and hear someone shout back,MOUNTAINEERS!

I know that passion. Ive experienced that pride.

From the day I arrived and put on my firstFlying WVcap, I fell in love with this University. And just like Pat, Paul and the others, I, too, will always feel a lifelong connection with WVU even when my role as your interim president ends.

BecauseOnce a MountaineerAlways a Mountaineer.

C. Peter Magrath is interim president of West Virginia University.