Five years ago today a gunman on Virginia Tech's campus shot and killed 32 students and faculty members before turning the gun on himself and taking his own life. The nation and the world for that matter watched in horror as the events unfolded live on television. It stands today as the largest loss of life due to an act of violence in a university setting.
Onlookers were shocked not only because of the body count or gruesome details of the shooting, but because of the betrayal of innocence that is expected of and associated with academia. Shattered were our preconceptions that it couldn't happen here. Five years have passed and yet it still seems like it happened just yesterday. It stands as haunting memory in our collective being, one that has affected us directly perhaps more than any one event in our lives.
Join me inside as I take us back to that tragic day and try unsuccessfully to harness the words that will serve as reverent and do justice to those involved. Please don't hesitate to do the same in the comments section.
Seeing students fleeing buildings, police with assault rifles running across campus and the limitless numbers of emergency personnel seemed confusing, unnerving and to this day, surreal. It was clear to all of us: nothing would ever be the same. Many of us lived it in person. Those (like myself) who did not were glued to the TV or the radio trying to get every tidbit of information available, texting/calling loved ones, friends and acquaintances to inquire about their safety and well-being.
Through this tragedy our school became stronger, our community closer and our bond more complete. We have grieved, grown and reminisced about the events of that day. We have shared our stories, our emotions and our memories with one another and those outside the Hokie Nation curious of our experience and eager to voice their support.
One memory which I choose to share stands out above the rest for me. It occurred while watching the Convocation Address live on national television the day after the tragedy. Immediately following Virginia Tech Professor Niiki Giovanni's speech, the chants of "Let's Go Hokies" reverberated from wall to wall in Cassell Coliseum. I broke down and cried for the first time over the events of the tragedy. Unable to contain my emotions, I loudly and joyously joined in as if the world were listening to me the same as those in attendance that day. In that moment, I knew that we would be okay, that we would recover and that the Hokie spirit would live on.
Unfortunately the university is still most well-known for this tragedy and the school's countless worthwhile accomplishments are somewhat overshadowed by it. All it takes is to perform a simple internet search or ask a non-Hokie what they know about the university and you will receive the inevitable answer: the events of April 16, 2007. In a way it is touching that others do not forget, but it is troubling that people are so fixated on that event and several events since that has earned Virginia Tech an association with violence in the public eye. That is not our identity, but it is part of our history. It is our job as Hokies to not let it define us and what it means to be a Hokie.
Let us never forget those who lost their lives that day, and continue to honor their memories both by showing the world the strength and character of the Hokie Nation and by living our lives to the fullest, lest we forget how precious life truly is. Let us keep their families and all of those affected by the tragedy in our thoughts and prayers as we navigate through this day of painful memories.
We will never be able to change the events of the past. We can only control what is ahead of us. We will never completely heal from the events on that day...some scars just cut too deep. But, as Giovanni said so eloquently and emphatically on April 17, 2007 in our period of grieving,
"We are the Hokies.
We will prevail.
We will prevail.
We WILL prevail.
We are Virginia Tech."