Every year I find it more and more difficult to find proper words for this day. But today, I’m going to try.
Seven years ago today, 32 innocent lives were taken in the deadliest school shooting in American history. I was a freshman in high school on April 16, 2007. I came home to my mom sitting on our couch with the news on. I sat and watched with her and wondered why anyone would ever do something like that. I still ask myself that today.
Nearly three years later, I received my acceptance email from Virginia Tech, and the next day–February 19, 2010–I decided to be a Hokie. It was the best decision I ever made.
In the spring of my freshman year at Tech, I attended the candlelight vigil on the drill field with a group of my friends. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how many people would cry. I didn’t know how many people who were here on that day in 2007 were still here as students. I didn’t know if any of my friends would cry. I definitely did not expect the chills I got when the a capella group sang “Fields of Gold” as the candle-lighting part of the vigil happened. And I most definitely did not expect to almost cry myself when the ceremony ended with 32 rounds of, “Let go…Hokies!” Sure, we do that at football games and it’s an experience like no other, but that one was different in a way that I can’t properly express in words.
And I definitely did not expect to accidentally light my friend Sara’s hair on fire with a candle. But no damage was done; she still had a full head of curly black hair.
On Dec. 10, 2011, Officer Deriek Crouse was killed in the line of duty during a routine traffic stop that went awry. The next day, Tech students and the Blacksburg community held a vigil in honor of Officer Crouse and in support of his family. We also started a charity called Hokies for Crouse that raised over $100,000 for the Crouse family. Hokie strong? Absolutely.
April 16, 2012–my sophomore year–marked five years. My junior year (2013), the vigils stopped. At first I didn’t understand why they would discontinue such an event that drew thousands of students and community members. We came together in that time to remind one another of the love and support of Hokie Nation and that we will always be one family. If I remember correctly, a news release stated that it was time to move on, and so there would be no more organized vigils unless students did one themselves.
Now comes the part where I start to fumble. I always fear that my words are insufficient and I’m not saying what needs to be said, or what should be said, or if I’m even the right person to be saying this.
I had seen and heard “Live for 32” and “Never Forget” when I’d visited Tech before becoming a student, but I did not fully understand the gravity of those statements until I became a Hokie myself. I did not understand until someone at home made a snide comment to me about how I should “be careful there, and don’t get shot.” In that moment, as angry as I was, I had never been prouder to go to such a wonderful school, to be part of such a strong, loving family, and to be a Hokie.
I was just chatting with my mom a bit ago. I told her I was writing this post, and I said I’m afraid I don’t have the right words for it. She said, “We were always so impressed by how friendly everyone at Tech is, and their willingness to help anyone and everyone. I bet those 32 were the same way.”
My response? “I’m sure they were. They were Hokies, after all.”
So today and every day forward, I live for those 32. Last weekend, I ran for them. I live for Brotherhood, Honor, Leadership, Sacrifice, Service, Loyalty, Duty, and Ut Prosim. I will continue to live for those 32 and those eight values next year at Elon and wherever life takes me after that. I will neVer forgeT and I will always live to be a Hokie.
“We will prevail. We will prevail. We are Virginia Tech.”