As I helped our radio team cover the Virginia Tech Convocation in Blacksburg this afternoon, I was struck by the tangible emotion among the students in Cassell Coliseum. Here I was in a studio in Washington watching from a distance, yet it felt as if I were amongst the crowd. Every seat was filled; every face telling the story of sorrow, confusion, anger and yearning for understanding that they are feeling. Tears ran down faces, others simply buried theirs in hands. Even President Bush’s face showed the raw emotion of a community struggling with unimaginable grief.
Accompanied by the First Lady, President Bush delivered much needed remarks to a student body in search of comfort and support.
Laura and I have come to Blacksburg today with hearts full of sorrow. This is a day of mourning for the Virginia Tech community -- and it is a day of sadness for our entire nation. We've come to express our sympathy. In this time of anguish, I hope you know that people all over this country are thinking about you, and asking God to provide comfort for all who have been affected.
In addition to the President, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine spoke along with members of all faiths. Dr. Zenobia Hikes, Vice President for Student Affairs, moderated the service.
But what really gave me hope for this community and what seemed to be a light to shine in the darkest days of their lives were the closing remarks by their fellow professor and poet Nikki Giovanni. Here’s an excerpt of her poem she read for the students:
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 VT, we are strong enough to stand tall tirelessly, we are brave enough to bend and cry, and sad enough to know we must laugh again…
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 imagination and the possibility; we will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears, through all this sadness. We are the Hokies, we will prevail, we will prevail, we will prevail… we ARE Virginia Tech!
What happened next appeared to me to be the first steps to moving forward. The entire student body rose to raucous applause that grew into an impromptu school cheer that one would expect to hear at a football game or basketball game.
“Let’s GO, Hokies!! [clap, clap, clap-clap-clap] Let’s GO, Hokies!! [clap, clap, clap-clap-clap] Let’s GO, Hokies…” they cheered and clapped.
I think as a largely Christian nation, it is embedded within us a spirit of resurrection. It is why other nations look at our darkest days and wonder why we always come back, stronger than before, more determined than ever.
Hopefully, for the sake of the students, families and faculty, there was a spark in that coliseum this afternoon that someday they may be able to look back and see the good that might have come from the terrible events of yesterday.
But in the short run, I think Dr. Hikes got it exactly right. Once the cheering stopped, she looked around at the students still standing and said, “Boy, did we need that!”