Tuesday, April 16, 2013

April 16

**EDIT: I had this post written well before everything that happened in Boston yesterday.  Even though this is quite specific to my undergraduate institution, I think the thoughts can still ring true for those touched by tragedy.**

This post has been written well in advance of today.  April 16th is always a day that I'm never really sure of. I don't know how to act or what to say.  I don't know what it all means, I don't know if anything happens for a reason, and I just...don't know what to say about it, I guess.

I'll preface everything by saying that April's been a tough month for me. Between defending my thesis, job-searching, catching up from the travelling I did in March, and trying to write, it's been a struggle.  And today is probably the worst day in April, so forgive me if I sound melodramatic.  I don't intend to.

I've talked about it briefly before, but my undergraduate institution was Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!).  I am extremely honored and grateful that I was able to call that university and little old Blacksburg, VA, my home for four years.  I'm still calling that place home now, as I'm about to move on to the next chapter of my life.

But my school, my home, will forever be known for one thing.  It won't matter that we've consistently been the #1 collegiate fundraiser for Relay for Life, that each and every student lives their life by our school's motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).  It won't matter that (most) years we're good at football, or that, in the fall, even our trees have school spirit.

No, none of that will matter.  Not on April 16th.

My school, my home, my family was subjected to a terrible tragedy on April 16th, 2007.  32 Hokies lost their lives that day, for the mere reason that they decided to go to class, or work.  They treated that day like any other, and now they don't have any days left.

I don't believe in glorifying the perpetrators of these crimes --and mentioning the perpetrator's name, while the victims remain in the background, is unfortunately something that occurs whenever the same type of tragedy happens.  So, instead, I'm going to post the names of the 32 family members that I never got to know.

Ross A. Alameddine
Christopher James Bishop
Brian R. Bluhm
Ryan Christopher Clark
Austin Michelle Cloyd
Jocelyne Couture-Nowak
Kevin P. Granata
Matthew Gregory Gwaltney
Caitlin Millar Hammaren
Jeremy Michael Herbstritt
Rachael Elizabeth Hill
Emily Jane Hilscher
Jarrett Lee Lane
Matthew Joseph La Porte
Henry J. Lee
Liviu Librescu
G.V. Loganathan
Partahi Mamora Halomoan Lumbantoruan
Lauren Ashley McCain
Daniel Patrick O’Neil
Juan Ramon Ortiz-Ortiz
Minal Hiralal Panchal
Daniel Alejandro Perez Cueva
Erin Nicole Peterson
Michael Steven Pohle, Jr.
Julia Kathleen Pryde
Mary Karen Read
Reema Joseph Samaha
Waleed Mohamed Shaalan
Leslie Geraldine Sherman
Maxine Shelly Turner
Nicole Regina White

I wasn't there when it happened.  I was a senior in high school, already set on attending in the fall and excited about being a Hokie.  After the tragedy, people asked if I still planned on going, and I couldn't help but just look at them.  

"Of course I'm going," I'd say, full of resolve.  "Why wouldn't I?"
They'd look down.  "Well, you know, because..." and their voice would trail away.
"But have you been watching the news?" I'd answer. 
They'd nod.
"Then you've seen how united they are, even with everything that's going on. There's no place I'd rather be."

And that was the answer I'd give.  It was the truth.  I'd made my choice, and I was moved and impressed by how the Hokie Nation found it's voice in the face of such horror.

I wasn't there when it happened.  But I was there a few months later, a fresh face at a place that was forever changed.  One of the first things I remember that showed me how my home had changed was during Orientation.  It was late, one of the last sessions with my Orientation Leader, and he started talking about his experiences that day, I think as a way to prepare us for what would happen when we started.  My Orientation Leader couldn't hold it together.  Here he was, this college senior, breaking down in front of us.  Here he was, this stranger who'd known us for a few short hours, who showed us that we weren't strangers anymore.

We were part of a family that was hurt.  A family that was confused, and angry, and shocked, and sad, and so many other things that I can't even begin to put into words.  But our family was also trying to heal.  I was amazed that so many people could try to move on together, without forgetting the loved ones they lost.

That is what makes me proud to be a Hokie.  Our spirit, our perseverance, our love and support for each other.  That's what I found when I was at Virginia Tech.  A place I could call home, and friends I could call family.  I found love and acceptance.  I won elections, joined organizations, made mistakes, did fairly well in classes, and figured out what I wanted to do with my life.

While I was at Virginia Tech I never, for one moment, felt unsafe.  The notion that I wouldn't be safe at a school that had seen so much heartache was absurd.  It was a tragedy that occurred in Blacksburg, Virginia, yes, but unfortunately we've seen that same tragedy repeated over and over again.

Tragedy has touched us, yes, but it doesn't have to define us.  We're defined by our actions, our community, our desire to serve, to make the world a better place, and to invent the future.

Today is always such an interesting day for me, because I wasn't there.  For four years of my life, I stood with my friends, my family, as we mourned our lost loved ones.  The emotions behind everyone's words, the moments of silence in between names being read, where the victims were announced as mothers, daughters, fathers, brothers, dedicated professor, loving nephew, wanted to change the world.  32 names were read every year.  32 names will continue to be read every year.

I'm still not sure how to deal with this day, six years later.  I try to be there for my friends as best as I can, even though we're scattered around the country now.  I wear black, put my maroon and orange ribbon on, change my Twitter and Facebook profile pictures in remembrance --and somehow that doesn't seem like it's enough.

And I think that's because it's not --I don't think it will ever be enough.  But that's okay, because I'm trying.  I'm remembering.  I'm living for the 32 family members I never got to know.

Life is messy, and terrible, and wonderful, and sometimes far too short.  So I think I'll take today to reflect on what matters most to me, and how lucky I am to be here.  Today I'm going to allow myself to live in the past, to mourn, if only for a day.  Today I'm going to cry. A lot.  And not understand anything.

Today I'm going to accept that any illusion of normalcy is shattered, has been shattered, I think, for as long as I can remember.  Terrible things happen, and when they happen to you or people you care about, it can be hard to try to return to whatever "normal" was. And, in some way, it might be impossible to return to "normal" when loved ones are torn from you so callously.  When the place you called home and thought was safe gets violated so thoughtlessly that you don't know what to do.  You don't know what to trust, or how to go on.  Today I'm going to be fine with being completely lost.  With not having the right answers, with struggling over how these things can happen.

But today I'm also going to recognize that, despite all the bad, there's still good in this world.

And then tomorrow I'm going to keep going.  Tomorrow, I'll try to move on again.  Tomorrow, I'll live my life because my family members didn't get the chance to live theirs.  Tomorrow, I'm going to try to make sense of it all, even though I'll probably never be able to accomplish this goal.

But, whatever I do, I'll neVer forgeT.

I think I'll let Nikki Giovanni say everything I can't.  She's pretty amazing.

I love you all, and I'm here for you.  I want you to know that.


  1. What a lovely, sad, beautiful, and hopeful post. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. This is beautiful, Alex. Thank you for writing it.

    1. and thank you for reading it (and for coming up with an awesome life plan :P)