On Monday, April 16th, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, a senior English major at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia killed 32 people before taking his own life in what would be the deadliest shooting rampage in United States history.
But this blog post isn’t about the Seung-Hui Cho, the mental health debate, or gun policies. It’s about the 32 people who fell on April 16th 2007, and the countless more who suffered physical and emotional scars as a result. This post is for them.
One of my good friends Audrey is currently a junior at Virginia Tech. She started a humbling project that I would like to highlight now. I asked her to tell me a little bit about what she was doing and why. This is her response:
So last week, on April 15th...my residents and I walked down to the drill field to wait for midnight. Every year since the mass shooting, students gather at the memorial on the drill field to stand before the names of the fallen Hokies and to silently reflect....giving 32 minutes of silence. A few of the cadets will play taps at the end...and then all who feel drawn closer to the memorial can step up and read the names of the 32. This year...I have felt more connected to my campus than ever before...and felt this close link between me and all the names on those stones. I stood there and couldn't help but think of my professor who was a student at that time...who had to jump out of a window to escape...and how his reflections on that event created the living learning community that has defined my college experience...or of all the families of these people whose lives are forever changed...or the devastating hurt I've witnessed when a loved one dies....and how many people experienced that with this immense violence.
My friend Audrey has always been a go-getter. Very service minded, she has never hesitated to reach out to help a friend in need or to do something to better the community at large. She continues:
So...standing there silently I felt the impulse to do something...and humbled knowing there is not a lot I can do. But I thought about all my Hokie residents, friends, teachers, etc. who might be thinking the same thing. And I never wanted this to happen again to my campus. So I posted the following on Facebook to try to help all who read it learn about the lives of the fallen 32...to reflect on what it means to be in community. It means we look after one another and when one of our own withdraws...becomes distant...and closes off...we reach out. And we show as much love to each other every day. Here's what I posted:
"How important it is to truly learn about the place you are...it is our responsibility to pass on what we learn to those rising up beneath us...and to celebrate those who came before us. Although I did not know the Hokies who fell on April 16th...I know we call the same place home...and that I walk the same paths they did every day. To memorialize them in a way...I will post their stories, one a day, for the next 32 days. I invite all who can to take pause and read their stories...such inspiring people indeed."
Her first post on April 16th began with Dr. Liviu Librescu, a Romanian Holocaust survivor who taught in the Engineering, Science, and Mechanics Department. Each post includes a photo of the fallen Hokie with a well-thought out essay describing the individual who was taken too soon.
It’s hard to imagine how people make sense of tragedy and how those with hidden traumas from the day find the courage to face the world despite them. Audrey is promoting a project with honor, diligence, and reverence—educating all of us to remember those who came before us.
This post is dedicated to all the students of Virginia Tech, past and present.