‘We Will Pre­vail’

The Washington Post Sunday - - Close To Home - — Ar­chana Prasanna

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 archanaprasanna@ya­hoo.com.


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.

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