What We’ll Al­ways See in Our School

The Washington Post Sunday - - Out­look -

dis­rup­tion in our once-nor­mal lives. Try­ing to bal­ance shock, re­lief, anger and con­cern, we end up feel­ing con­fused and un­sure. We still love this place, but it’s dif­fer­ent — at least for now.

What I re­mem­ber most about last Mon­day is how dis­con­nected it felt. I was awak­ened that morn­ing by Amie Steele, the new ed­i­tor in chief of the Col­le­giate Times. It was my first day off from the pa­per; we grad­u­at­ing se­niors had handed the ed­i­to­rial reins over to the un­der­class­men the week be­fore. Work­ing for the pa­per, I’d cov­ered the 2006 man­hunt for es­caped pris­oner Wil­liam C. Morva, re­cent bomb threats on cam­pus and nu­mer­ous other po­lice op­er­a­tions — but noth­ing like what was about to un­fold.

At that point, only the first two shoot­ings had been re­ported, but soon af­ter that first phone call, the flood of e-mails and in­stant mes­sages started. Friends were telling me that they saw peo­ple run­ning out­side on the Drill­field, across from Nor­ris Hall, or that the gun­man had moved to nearby Bur­russ Hall. Each ca­su­alty to­tal seemed more un­be­liev­able than the last. Cam­pus-wide e-mails started ar­riv­ing, telling us that classes were can­celled, to stay at home, to stay away from win­dows.

So my room­mate and I stayed in our house. The In­ter­net kept crash­ing, and we could an­swer des­per­ate calls from our par­ents only with, “We’re okay.” Through­out the morn­ing, no one knew if the shooter was still out there or what had re­ally hap­pened. We didn’t even dare leave the house to get food.

And yet, even though we were forced to watch the same news the same way thou­sands of peo­ple across the coun­try did, we’re the ones who will have to live with the con­se­quences. And I refuse to let the mem­o­ries of those who died fade into re­gret, and I refuse to let the ac­tions of one man tar­nish my life and taint my ex­pe­ri­ence.

Yes, there is now a stain on my time at Vir­ginia Tech. But there are far more good mem­o­ries that out­weigh it. Yes, we’re all fo­cused on this tragedy. But I keep other things in the back of my mind: Re­u­nit­ing with an old mid­dle-school friend at a Hok­ies spirit event my fresh­man year and room­ing with him ever since. Trav­el­ing around the coun­try with the uni­ver­sity cham­ber singers. Work­ing at the Col­le­giate Times, which in­tro­duced me to a new pro­fes­sion that I love and in­tend to pur­sue. Th­ese are the mo­ments that de­fine Vir­ginia Tech in my eyes, and the rea­sons why, once I grad­u­ate, I’ll be sad to no longer call it my home.

I’ve had lots of classes in Nor­ris, where most of the stu­dents were shot, ev­ery se­mes­ter since I was a fresh­man. Now it’s weird to think about the last time I was in there, lis­ten­ing to a lec­ture, tak­ing notes, walk­ing out at the end of class talk­ing about the day’s news­pa­per with a fel­low ed­i­tor. My cur­rent classes there on an­cient Greece will be moved to an­other build­ing, and I can’t see classes ever be­ing held in Nor­ris again. I can’t even see it be­ing turned into fac­ulty of­fices. Some stu­dents have sug­gested that the school knock it down; oth­ers think a memo­rial park would be ap­pro­pri­ate. I just know that right now, it’s a haunt­ing mau­soleum sur­rounded by po­lice tape.

With no classes to go to last week, many stu­dents went home. Those of us who stayed mostly just wan­dered around. Many went to vig­ils and memo­ri­als, but most of the time you just found your­self alone with your thoughts. Aside from the po­lice pres­ence and the many memo­rial sites, cam­pus has never been so empty. I’m ac­tu­ally dis­ap­pointed that more peo­ple didn’t stay at school. I hope that in time they’ll feel as con­nected, as com­fort­able, in this place as I do. I hope that noth­ing will ever again hap­pen to drive them away.

I will al­ways be proud to say I’m a Vir­ginia Tech alum­nus, that I was in Blacks­burg dur­ing our dark­est hour and that we all came to­gether for some­thing much greater than just cheer­ing our foot­ball team. I’ll be proud to re­call the way the foot­ball field over­flowed for the con­vo­ca­tion last Tues­day, with stu­dents and fac­ulty tear­fully star­ing up at the live feed from Cas­sell Coli­seum. Vir­ginia Gov. Tim Kaine said it best in his speech that day — we showed the world our for­ti­tude, our com­mu­nity and who we are as peo­ple.

I’m ready to leave, but only as a grad­u­ate. And a part of me will al­ways re­main at Vir­ginia Tech, with a uni­ver­sity that has of­fered me far more than I could ever hope to give back.


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