Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Remembering Virginia Tech

During my second year at the University of Utah, I decided to participate in the National Student Exchange program. This meant that I could pick a state school anywhere in the country to attend for a school year, all while paying my own school's tuition.

It sounded like a perfect opportunity. I had never been anywhere farther east than South Dakota, and had never lived anywhere but Utah. The whole country was open to me. Somehow, I came across a little school in Southern Virginia called Virginia Tech. I can still remember watching their school video and how happy their students seemed, how pretty the campus was, how the small town surrounding it seemed like a nice place to live.

The year I spent at "Tech" (as the locals like to call it) was a year that changed me. I had never lived so far away from my family before. I learned about email, and spent almost every night writing long epistles to my mom and sister Amy. I made some really good friends who opened up their lives and homes to me when I was too far away to come home for holidays. I learned how college was supposed to be, complete with dorms, roommates, yucky dining hall food, spring breaks in Florida, Thanksgivings spent at friends houses. I lived the college life, participated in activities, actually had some school spirit. The Virginia Tech campus became more than a campus: it was my home. I walked its paths daily.

Main Eggleston Hall, the building where my dorm room was.

Burrus Hall, which was directly across the Drillfield (a large grassy area in the middle of campus, surrounded by buildings) from my dorm. When I looked out my dormroom window, this was the scene that greeted my eyes.

About a year ago, a young man decided he needed to take out his loneliness and frustration out on his fellow Virginia Tech students with a couple of guns and a lot of ammunition. Within a day, the news was full of Virginia Tech photos and stories, and they all showed images of places dear to my heart. While I didn't have any classes in the building where most of the shootings took place, I remember the area of campus that it was in. The residence hall where he began his rampage had housed a few of my friends and acquaintances.

For a few days, I couldn't turn on my TV without seeing something about my dear school. On the night following the shooting, the students all gathered on the Drillfield for a candlelight vigil. All I could think of as I watched the footage was my own gathering on the drillfield on the Sunday night before classes started. On that night, there were hamburgers and hot dogs and veggie burgers by the thousands for all the students housed in the dorms. There were kids playing hackey sack and throwing frisbees; other older students finding friends from previous years, while the new first year students sat in uncomfortable circles next to their RA (residence assistant) who plied them with questions of where they were from and what they would study. The feeling of camaraderie was there that night, and I knew a similar feeling was being created even through the sadness on the night of the candlelight vigil.

A few days after the incident, the whole school gathered for a convocation of prayer and song and healing. Thanks to the internet, I watched as leaders of many faiths from around the area offered words of comfort and praise to the students. I cried for the loss of innocence that had occured in a place so beloved to me, and to many other thousands of people who had walked its paths.

It's a crazy world we live in. I know that the shootings at Virgina Tech aren't unique; sadly, there have been many such events in the past few years. I'm sure others felt the same sadness I felt during Columbine, and the recent shootings at Northern Illinois University. But for me, the events last April at Virginia Tech were incredibly personal. You never think it can happen in your town, at your school, or to someone in your life. I am sad for everyone who has felt this loss of innocence.

I will end with an address from Nikki Giovanni's address at the convocation after the shootings.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech.

The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

We are the Hokies.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech.


Melanie said...

That is such a touching speech. It's not exactly the same, but John and I watched coverage of the Trolley Square shootings on t.v. from Spokane, in complete disbelief that such a thing could happen in our hometown. I think the loss of innocence is so sad. I'm glad for you that you got to go somewhere far away and have such good, memorable experiences.

Stephanie said...

I had no idea you had the opportunity to attend college in such a neat place! And how tragic that something so terrible happened at your beloved school (or anywhere, for that matter!)

On a lighter note, your past few posts made me laugh! I love your new kitty (and her/his? name). I'll have to meet all three of them sometime :-).

Isabel said...

I had no idea you went there. Wow.

What a lovely post. Thanks for sharing.