I Haven’t Always Been a Hokie

I haven’t always been a Hokie.

Growing up in Lynchburg left me at a fairly equal distance between VT and UVA, which forced me not to gravitate towards either one. I always felt like UVA was where the preppy, nouveau-riche kids went to feel more elite than they really were and that VT was where the husky farming boys went to get a Bachelor’s degree to milk cows. I never thought I’d end up at “big state school” and always saw myself at a local liberal arts college less than 20 miles down the road.

On April 16, 2007 I was in the seventh grade. Even though the tragedy was about an hour and forty minutes from me, I was completely desensitized to it. I heard about the 32 casualties and it was just a number to me. It felt like something that would happen in thrilling movie. I never read the headlines. I was not moved by the pictures. I went to church that Sunday and we said a long prayer, like one of the ones where you just want to fidget and open your eyes but my southern upbringing made me scared to take the chance. A girl from my church was a Tech student at the time. I didn’t know her that well, but I was glad she was okay.

My first experience with death was four days before my eighteenth birthday. It was a very good childhood friend. Car accident. Dead on impact. Just like that- she was gone. Her death hit me hard. I made sure I was scheduled to wait tables at Country Cookin’ the nights of her vigils and the day of her funeral. I didn’t want to watch the newscasts about the accident and my car never passed by the cement pole sticking out of the pavement on Mayflower Drive.

The rest of my last semester of high school lead me on a clueless search for where I wanted to spend the next four years. It was a random program for prospective minority students that persuaded me to give Virginia Tech a try. It was the second weekend of April and the Blacksburg weather couldn’t have been more perfect. We arrived on campus just as the Rec Sports program was wrapping up the annual 3.2 for 32 Run in Remembrance. Campus was covered in maroon and orange. Everyone was wearing the same shirt from the run. They were smiling. There were balloons in all of the trees.

My host for the program took me to the April 16th Memorial in front of Burruss Hall. Everything got very quiet and awkward. I didn’t get very close but I kept my eyes on the blocks of Hokie stone as we passed by it. I could tell that the memorial held significance to my host. Her voice grew weak as she continued her tour. The program helped me choose Virginia Tech because I felt a sense of unity that I didn’t get even from the smallest of colleges. I knew it had everything to do with the weekend I visited. In my freshman year, I would stare at the memorial curiously as I crossed the drillfield to get to each class. Never once did I ever dare to visit it.

April 15th came and all of my freshman friends seemed excited to go to the lighting of the ceremonial candle at midnight that night. I told them all I wasn’t going. “I don’t do things like that,” I would tell them. And I didn’t. I never had to. I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where I had to the think about death.

At 11:45, I suddenly got the urge to go. I ran. I remember thinking I would miss it. I ended up getting there in about two minutes. I didn’t see anyone I knew yet. I felt uncomfortable. I wanted to leave. I ended up meeting a group of people in my fraternity. They were four people that I didn’t know very well, but I immediately felt safe. I knew I would make it.

Approaching the Hokie stones made me anxious. Time felt like it stopped as my colleagues and I walked past each stone. Seeing the names engraved on the stones personified them. In those moments I realized the reality of the tragedy that I had been too blind to see six years before. I had never seen any of the victims, but while looking at their stones I felt attached to them. I finally realized what it truly meant to be a Hokie. I felt that pride and honor that I had witnessed during the minority program a year before. I was now one of those students I had seen. I was smiling through the pain. I had the t-shirt. I had released one of the balloons into the trees. After my first true April 16th experience, I stopped running from death. I acknowledged Stacia’s passing. I engaged myself in the news during other unfortunate tragedies instead of running from them. I forced myself to figure out how to stay strong in tragic situations.

Tonight marks my second April 16th as a true Hokie. As upsetting as it can be, I am empowered. I feel stronger than ever, even with the tears streaming down my face. There is no feeling like being a part of the Virginia Tech community. I might not have always been a Hokie, but I am now and I will be forever.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech.

The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

We are the Hokies.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s