I felt sick to my stomach most of the day yesterday as the details of yesterday’s shootings unfolded. I couldn’t stop thinking, Why? Why would anyone do this? Why would anyone do this at my school? Why would anyone do this at the greatest school in the whole entire world?
Last night, as I finally watched the cell phone clip that captured the sound of 27 gunshots from outside Norris Hall, I had a brief flashback to a sunny, warm, October afternoon just a few years ago. I was walking arm-in-arm with a cadet – my boyfriend at the time – after an English class, down that very sidewalk, smiling, laughing, kicking around fallen leaves on the ground, discussing Kurt Vonnegut, my later-to-be favorite author. We were sophomores. I cried.
I cannot believe that this “massacre”, as Wikipedia has dubbed it, occurred at my school. At my school. A massacre? I am sure I speak for every alumnus when I say that although many of us are not directly acquainted with the victims of yesterday’s shootings, we are still deeply saddened and horrified at what took place yesterday morning on the campus we used to call home. We’re here, in our offices and our homes and our graduate schools across the nation and all over the world, and we are thinking of you.
We’re out here. We are saddened and devastated, but we’re not wearing black. We’re wearing orange and maroon. We’re wearing our class rings. We’re driving around with our Hokie license plates and showing up to work in our VT polo shirts.
We’re re-connecting through phone calls and e-mails and text messages and bulletin boards and coming together to mourn this tragic loss. And we will unite, as we have before, and do whatever we can to support our fellow Hokies during this critical time.
We’re out here and we’re not going to let the news media tear apart the integrity and reputation of our school and its actions and decisions. I have every faith that the Virginia Tech administration and police department did everything possible in response to this unimaginable crime. Such an event has been unprecedented in our society.
Think of the possibilities. Had the campus been closed, would that really have changed anything? Students and staff would have been roaming the sidewalks, the Drillfield. There would have been no windows to climb out of, no desks to hide behind, no doors to barricade. Do not judge the university for its response, judge the media for not responding accordingly. This is not the time to find the perfect picture, to capture the ultimate expression of devastation on a student’s face. This is not the time to bombard Charles Steger and Wendell Flinchum with accusatory questions. In the words of a friend, “We need to devote everything we have to teaching morals and values to every kid who’s sitting in a classroom somewhere right now. It seems like almost everything in the world today acts as either a temptation or a distraction, taking our attention away from what we should be doing.”
What we should be doing is paying more attention. Parents should be paying more attention to their children, students should be paying more attention to their peers, adults should be paying more attention to their co-workers and their neighbors, teachers should be paying more attention to their students. We should all be paying a little more attention to each other.
Some say we should implement stronger gun control laws; some say we need even more security at schools these days; some say we should have more detailed procedures for dealing with situations like these, and perhaps we will. But in the meantime, perhaps we should all just be a little nicer to each other.
And perhaps we should say thank you. Thank you to the professors like Beth Waggenspack and Emily Stallings in the Department of Communication who pulled a visiting high school art club from West Virginia into Shanks Hall and secured them in a basement until the danger had ended, and of course to those like Liviu Librescu, the 76-year-old professor who lost his life stalling the gunman while his students escaped from the window. Thank you to Dr. Rachel Holloway who got the word out to us communication alumni about some of the positive responses on campus yesterday and gave us a glimpse of optimism just before bedtime last night.
Thank you to President Steger and Police Chief Flinchum, who have put their personal emotions aside to bear the burden of keeping the rest of us informed as details are released.
And finally, thank you to the students and staff of Virginia Tech. Thank you for showing your support for our amazing university yesterday and this afternoon and for sticking by each other during this tragic time. Go Hokies.