College responds with grief, shock

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April 17, 2007

12:22 AM

A strong and unseasonable chill surrounded the Wren courtyard last night as students and faculty gathered in remembrance of yesterday’s Virginia Tech shootings, which resulted in 33 deaths — the deadliest shooting in U.S. history.

p. Student-lit candles — numbering in the hundreds — shed a somber light on the courtyard, and a steady wind was present throughout much of the ceremony. Many students found it difficult to keep their candles lit. Most used plastic cups to shield the flames.

p. The vigil was a solemn end to a day marked by confusion and panic in much of the commonwealth, particularly among its universities.

p. “It’s pretty powerful how quickly everyone in this community has just come out here to show their support for fellow students across the state,” Student Assembly President sophomore Zach Pilchen said at the beginning of the ceremony.

p. Pilchen introduced College President Gene Nichol, who spoke briefly on the day’s events and the College’s response.

p. “Truly it is in darkness that we’re inclined to light,” Nichol said in his speech to the gathering. “I am reluctant to add words — cheap words — to touch the unspeakable tragedy that struck our brothers and sisters in Blacksburg today. All other questions pale when compared to the killing of innocent women and men.”

p. Nichol compared the events in Blacksburg to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, saying that large-scale violence has become “expected” in contemporary America. He described the victims of the shootings as “children of God, who more than any other thing were loved and needed by others of God’s children.”

p. Nichol also read lines from Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon,” the same poem that Robert F. Kennedy read to a Memphis, Tenn. crowd the night of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

p. “Aeschylus wrote that ‘in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom from the awful grace of God,’” he said.

p. Vice President for Student Affairs Sam Sadler also spoke at the vigil. He said that the cold was a proper and reflective setting for the day’s dark events.

p. “There is something metaphorical about this cold wind that is blowing through the Wren yard,” Sadler said. “Wind that has swept across our landscape today. There’s also something uplifting, and something very hopeful in the light of your candles.”

p. Sadler stressed the importance of solidarity between the College and Virginia Tech, noting students’ plan to send a banner to Blacksburg filled with student condolences. The idea for the banner came from sophomores Katie McCown and Christina Hoffman and senior Mike Morrissey. After the ceremony, students lined up at the Wren building’s door to sign the banner. It will be held in the University Center for the rest of the week for student signing.

p. At least 200 people attended a student-led prayer vigil last night at 11 p.m. in the Sunken Garden. Students read scripture and named friends and family directly affected by the killings.

p. The College reserved the Wren Chapel for student meditation today, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

p. The Wren courtyard vigil took place just two hours after the SA inauguration ceremonies, held at 6 p.m. in the Great Hall. Both outgoing and incoming SA members — and Sadler — played roles in the coordination of the vigil, according to junior Brad Potter, who also helped organize the event.

p. “[Sadler’s] suggestion, which also happened to be the one that Amanda [Norris], Ryan Scofield, Tom Moyer and I had come up with as well, was to have a candlelight vigil at the Wren,” Potter said. “A large number of the Student Assembly officers and staffers helped to distribute the candles at the vigil.”

p. Potter was pleased with the event.

p. “Tonight was a humbling experience for everyone as our campus community showed its strength and love for those at Virginia Tech,” he said. “That a tragedy of this magnitude could strike so close to home reminds all of us just how short and fragile life truly is, even for the young and innocent … the heart of the College goes out to Virginia Tech.”

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