‘We Will Prevail’
Before Monday, I did not know that it was possible for a person’s perspective on life to change overnight. As a Virginia Tech student and a proud Hokie, I have roamed Blacksburg for three years. I was accustomed to a mostly carefree routine until that morning of unimaginable horror and grief.
I woke up to a regular day at about 10 o’clock in my off-campus apartment. As I got ready for classes, I was oblivious to the storm that had erupted on campus. At about 11 a.m., before leaving for the 10minute bus ride that would have taken me to a family therapy elective class, a quick e-mail check left me sitting at my desk stunned.
In bold letters, four e-mails from the university administration, with subject lines such as “All Classes Canceled; Stay where you are” and “Second Shooting Reported; Police have one gunman in custody,” provided no solace. Rather, I felt a rush of terror and shock.
Petty things that I usually complain about — lack of sleep, too much homework — instantly were insignificant. I logged on to Facebook to learn about the situation and if anyone I knew was involved. With my television locked on CNN, the media coverage was at once overwhelming and addictive.
Pictures of places that I had frequented daily for the past three years were repeatedly shown on the air while I frantically tried to reach family and friends. As I stared at TV images of Burruss Auditorium, Torgersen Hall and my old dorm, Ambler Johnston Hall, surrounded by police cars and SWAT vans, the campus became somehow foreign to me. Buildings where I had made friends, listened to a lecture or both seemed almost unrecognizable.
The initial reports that one student was dead changed dramatically around noon. In an instant, the number of victims of the shooting jumped from one to 21. Phone calls poured in from worried acquaintances. Friends posted surreal computer awaymessages saying things like, “I’m alive and okay.” Never had I felt so lucky to be able to use those words.
Pictures from cellphones were posted online by fellow students who were stuck in Norris Hall or locked down in a dorm room. As the death toll increased again — to 32 by 4:30 p.m. — I felt a heightened sense of urgency to find anyone I knew who was associated with Tech. E-mail systems, overwhelmed with messages, began to freeze. I feared for a political science professor who taught a class I took in Norris Hall on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Unaware of her schedule and unable to send or receive messages, all I could do was wait. A paralyzing helplessness took hold.
By day’s end, I realized that for me and many of my friends, answers to the dozens of questions on our minds about the specifics of the incident could wait. It wasn’t important to place blame on the administration for any mistakes or even to know the shooter’s motive.
The next day, along with everyone else I know, I awoke early, put on my orange and maroon school colors, and joined hands with thousands in unity. Our voices needed to be heard. We needed to show our collective respect for humanity. We needed to show the nation — the world, really — what Virginia Tech actually represents.
I waited in an endless line to enter Cassell Coliseum for a memorial service. On any other occasion, having the president of the United States address us would have been the highlight. This day of remembrance was for the victims, though, for their families. As I sat in the grief-filled arena and I discovered via word of mouth that a friend had in fact died in the rampage, life took on a new meaning. For the first time in my 20 years, I understood what it meant to be part of a community, and I vowed to do anything I could to help those in need.
I knew right then that the school’s students, faculty and alumni would be forever united. Nikki Giovanni, a poet and creative writing professor, said it best during the service: “We will prevail. We will prevail. We are Virginia Tech.”
Blacksburg The writer, who is scheduled to graduate from Virginia Tech next month, attended Winston Churchill High School in Potomac. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Flowers being delivered last week to the Virginia Tech student center. Monday’s shooting rampage left 33 dead, including the gunman.
A Virginia Tech student bows his head at a message-board memorial to the victims.
Commemorative ribbons on campus.