I originally published this post last year on the eighth anniversary of the tragedy. I wanted to write a new tribute this year, but the words just weren’t coming. And I think this post from last year says everything that needs to be said.
On April 16, 2007, a gunman killed 32 students and professors at Virginia Tech before taking his own life. 17 other students and professors were wounded. April 16th is the largest, deadliest school massacre by a single gunman in American history.
Today marks nine years since April 16, 2007. On that day, I was a mere freshman in high school and my knowledge of Virginia Tech didn’t extend much farther than their football and basketball teams. I came home from school and saw my mom sitting on our couch, with our cat Buttons curled up next to her. Her face was somber and her eyes were fixed on the television. I joined her and we sat in silence as we watched the news reports.
Every year on April 16th, I think about that day, about how I thought, How could someone do something so awful, so devastating? I think about the uneasiness in my stomach as I watched footage of students running from Norris Hall. I think about the families who lost their loved ones that day: sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends. I think of those who sacrificed their lives to save those of others. I think about the survivors, and the brave young men and women who protected their classmates and still make their voices heard today.
Every year on April 16th, I think of the first time my family visited Virginia Tech, in the fall of my sophomore year of high school. We were there for a UNC football game, since Chapel Hill was too far to drive from Pennsylvania just for a weekend. When we couldn’t find our way to Lane–although now looking back, it seems silly that we couldn’t–several Hokies kindly offered their help, even though we weren’t wearing maroon and orange, and guided us to their football stadium. They made the visiting team and fans feel just as welcome as their own.
Every year on April 16th, I think of my first tour as an accepted student, and walking by the memorial on the Drillfield, and seeing those Hokie Stone headstones. That was inspired by an impromptu memorial by some students who, in the days following the tragedy, picked out 32 pieces of Hokie Stone from campus construction and laid them in a semicircle at the top of the Drillfield. Later, a stone bench honoring the survivors was added.
Every year on April 16th, I think of Nikki Giovanni’s immortal words, “We will prevail, we will prevail, we will prevail, we are Virginia Tech.” I think of how many cars I’ve seen with those words on a ribbon-shaped magnet, and how to us, it’s not just a magnet.
Every year on April 16th, I think of the candlelight vigil my freshman year, and how I didn’t know what it would be like, and I didn’t know how many students who were there in 2007 were still there then. I didn’t know how many people would cry. I didn’t know if I would cry. And when I think of those things, I hear 32 rounds of “Let’s go…Hokies!” and a chorus of “Fields of Gold,” and I see the candlelight slowly spreading among thousands of students, families, and Blacksburg locals as we honor those 32 fallen Hokies.
Every year on April 16th, I think of the 3.2 Run in Remembrance and watching 32 white balloons float effortlessly into the sky, followed by hundreds of maroon and orange balloons.
Every year on April 16th, I think of December 8, 2011, when Officer Deriek W. Crouse died in the line of duty when a routine traffic stop on campus went wrong. I think of having lunch in the student center with my friend Ben when campus went on lockdown, and how we were herded into Colonial Hall with hundreds of other terrified students when the SWAT teams and National Guard thought the shooter was closing in on Squires, and how, through all the chaos, I heard someone mutter, “Not again…” I think of sitting in a lecture hall and gripping Ben’s hand and praying and praying and praying. I think of how we organized a candlelight vigil the following night, and how we raised more than $100,000 in mere days for the Crouse family.
Today on April 16th, I think about going back to Blacksburg in September 2014 for a football game and walking by the memorial on the Drillfield before meeting a friend to tailgate. I think of how it took me graduating and being an alumna to bring me to tears at that memorial and seeing those headstones with flowers and notes held down by rocks and pebbles.
Today on April 16th, I remember those 32 Hokies up in Heaven, who I’m sure smile and tell every angel about Blacksburg and the Drillfield and the pylons and Lane Stadium and the Corps of Cadets and the duck pond and have no problems answering, “So, what exactly is a Hokie?” a thousand times. They probably answer it much better than I can.
Today on April 16th, I think of how I’ve never felt anything but safe and at home at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Virginia. I think of how everyone I ever met there was warm, welcoming, friendly, and always ended our conversations with “Go Hokies!” I think of how “Hokie Nation” isn’t just a thing we say or a slogan we put on t-shirts or a hashtag we use on Twitter. We are a worldwide community, a family, a forever friendship of thousands who actually think maroon and orange look good together.
Today on April 16th, I think of a conversation I had with my mom once, and how 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.” I’m sure they were. They were Hokies, after all.
Today, on April 16th, 2016, on every April 16th and every day forevermore, I think of how proud I am to be a Hokie and how there’s no other place I’d rather call my alma mater. I think of Brotherhood, Service, Loyalty, Honor, Leadership, Sacrifice, Duty and Ut Prosim.
We will prevail, we will prevail, we will prevail. We are Virginia Tech.