Last year on this day I was stopped in a museum while I was on vacation in Virginia with my kids and in laws, because I had a Virginia Tech shirt on.
"What is going on? Have you heard?" A frantic teacher on a field trip with his kids, said to me.
"What are you talking about?" I had no idea that what I was about to hear, would absolutely break my heart.
"32 are dead, it came over my Blackberry... 32 are dead at Tech, something bad happened" He too was an alumni searching for any information he could.
My first thoughts were, a collapsed building, a bomb... many things, but I never imagined on MY campus, a person would go on a shooting rampage that would forever link a place so close to my heart, to a tragedy...and that never again would I be able to say where I went to school, wear my shirts, hats, or have people see the stickers on my car, with out first linking it to that horrific event. All I wanted to do was call my Dad. A fellow Hokie, he surely would know what was happening.
I ran into the shop where my family was, "I need to get out to the car, I need to call my dad, something is happening at Tech, people are dead...I have to get out to the car"
I called my father, and the minute I heard his voice, I knew it was bad. I knew it was bad because my father sounded like he was going to cry.
Let me just say, I understand this may sound strange, to feel this way about your college. Yes I do understand, but if you have ever met someone who went to Virginia Tech, or if you have gone there yourself, you know. You know what it is like to be a part of that institution. You know what it means to be a part of Hokie Nation.
I cannot explain it in any other way other than to say, I knew Hokie Triumph as a kid, I knew "Hokie Hokie Hokie Hi," I always thought that Maroon and Orange together was a fine combination, (growing up with an Alumni Father has its effects.) And I can say the minute I saw that campus for the first time, my blood changed to Maroon and Orange. That is MY school, that is My heritage, and at that moment, with my fathers wavering voice, and the sinking feeling in my gut, my heart bled.
I spent the rest of my vacation glued to the TV. Watching, and then saying "I can't watch anymore," only to find my self in front of the coverage again. The pictures flashing by on the TV seemed surreal. Those were places I had lived, places I had taken classes, professors I knew...It was too much to really believe.
In the end, 32 people were killed, 33 if you count Cho, who should be counted as he died too. One of my husbands professors was killed, and a historical building that we both took classes in will be forever haunted by these events.
In the end I was thankful for many things, as we all are when we reflect on a tragedy that touches our lives.
I was thankful that my school, that I held so dear, was able to pull together in a moment when many would have been torn apart. They defended their school, they prayed together, they showed mercy and forgiveness, and in the end the word that kept coming to my mind was grace. Virginia Tech showed true grace.
I was thankful for the outpouring from other schools, even our rivals. The support of the country, and even the media's ability to leave the students alone after they had their stories.
I was thankful for having been in VA when this happened. I was able to attend memorials, and convocations. I was able to mourn with people who truly understood what I was mourning, and were mourning with me. And I was comforted by hearing the masses chant:
"We Are Virginia Tech"