I was lucky enough to attend Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University if you want to be really fancy about it) for four years. Last week, I was lucky enough to return to my undergraduate institution (which shall herein be referred to as my home), and spend some time reflecting on what Virginia Tech means to me.
Whenever I visit my home, I spend a lot of time at the April 16th Memorial. It's a nice place to sit and think, and I've definitely done my fair share of sitting and thinking there. On my last night of sitting and thinking, I was caught off-guard by a student who happened to walk by. He was caught off-guard by me, too, because he stopped mid-walk, took his head phones out, and spoke to me.
"Are you okay?" He asked.
"I'm fine." I smiled, somewhat apologetically. "It's just a nice place to sit and think."
He considered this for a moment, and then smiled back. "I'd join you, but I have a quiz in ten minutes."
"I'll be all right. Thank you for checking on me, though. Oh, and good luck on your quiz!"
"Thanks!" He put his headphones back in. "Good luck sitting and thinking." He walked away, off to test his knowledge.
I really hope he got an A on that quiz.
It's kind of funny how a random encounter can shift your perspective. Until that student stopped to talk to me, I'd been somewhat moody, brooding over tough decisions and letting the weight of various things press down on me. I was at a pivotal moment where I knew I made the right decisions, but needed reassurance that the things I'd done would work out in a good way.
He was the sign I needed. It was that small act of kindness that completely turned things around for me. Just by stopping to talk to me, this student reminded me that, no matter how much bad there is in the world, there will always be good to counter it.
Admittedly, I burst into tears after he left, because I wasn't expecting that to happen. There I was, sitting alone at our memorial, looking out at the Drillfield, one of the most iconic things about my campus. And there he was, on his way to a quiz, taking time out of his day to make sure that I was all right. This stranger would've sat with me in silence, watching people walk home from classes or club meetings, if not for his quiz.
And that's when it hit me. He wasn't a stranger. He was, and is, part of my family.
You see, that is what I love about my home. Virginia Tech is filled with people just like that student - selfless, thoughtful, kind, and compassionate. Our school's motto is Ut Prosim, which means "That I May Serve." And oh, how we love that motto. We try to live that motto out every day, in many different ways. That student lived the motto out just by making sure I was all right. Our student body literally embodies that motto when they participate in The Big Event, or raise an absurd amount of money for Relay for Life. Our dedication and service doesn't just extend to our fellow Hokies and the community that surrounds us - if someone is in need somewhere and a Hokie is around to help, we will jump in head-first and do what needs to be done.
That intense level of selflessness is something that I learned while I attended Virginia Tech - but I didn't figure out until I went back there last week.
I also learned a lot about resiliency and strength. There had always been something so special about my home, though I often had a hard time articulating exactly what that was. As I walked around campus last week, I finally figured it out. My home had been through a lot. That's an understatement. Let me rephrase.
My home went through hell and back. My home was torn apart, my home was attacked, my home was wounded, and confused, and scared, and angry, and lost. My home was sad. Sad for days, months, years. My home mourned, my home was forever changed. My home was scarred.
My home was all of these things when I moved in. But that's not everything that my home had to offer.
My home, and my family, found hope through despair. My home found a way to heal. It wasn't a perfect way - I don't think there is such a thing when it comes to healing. But my home figured it out. It was painful, and probably won't ever be quite finished, but my home kept going. Despite everything, the Hokie Nation kept going. Through the pain and the heartache, through the unspeakable sadness, my family leaned on each other and pushed forward. We moved on because that's what we needed to do, but we never forgot. And we never will. Forgetting isn't in our nature - and neither is giving up.
We persevered by finding a strength we never knew we had. And I can attest to this, as someone who witnessed said strength first-hand. That's how I learned what true strength was. True strength wasn't stating that everything was all right when it wasn't. True strength was standing on the Drillfield with thousands of people, crying as 32 names are read out. True strength was comforting the person next to you, even though you'd never spoken to them before. True strength was acknowledging that things weren't all right and allowing that pain to take over - but only for a little while. Dwelling in pain isn't useful or healthy, but finding ways to create something good from something terrible is a mark of true strength.
I'd like to think that I gave a little bit of that strength back as I spent more time there and fully understood what my home meant to me. I'd also like to think that I can keep giving a bit of that strength back as I move farther and farther away from a place I love. My home, my family, has taught me that terrible things happen and that it's fine to feel lost for a little while. But there are always people who will be around to help and heal with you, because there's more to life than just pain.
My home taught me many things, though I didn't realize it while I was there. I will forever be thankful for discovering what it means to truly be selfless, compassionate, kind, loving, a good friend, supportive, strong, resilient, brave, creative, innovative, kick-ass, hilarious, and everything else I'm at a loss to explain.
So, since I'm at a loss to explain it, I'll just let Nikki Giovanni go ahead and break it down. She does it quite well.
I love my home. I'll always love my home. I hope I can make it proud every day, because it's an amazing place full of amazing people and it's time everyone saw that. We are so much more than our tragedy.
We are Virginia Tech, and we will neVer forgeT <3